Monday, February 10, 2014

Yah, Mon!

This morning, I was here:

Winter in the Arboretum

One week ago, I was here:

Winter in paradise

Oh what a difference one week and a four hour plane ride makes.

Welcome to the Oasis at Sunset Resort in Montego Bay Jamaica. (Admit it, you have that Bobby Bloom song in your head, don't you. You're welcome).

This is where Hubby and I recently spent seven days and seven nights, basking in glory of +30C weather. Our wee getaway from this year's polar vortex. A chance to kick back, relax, and rejuvenate.

With my entire family.

Yes, that's right. We went to Montego Bay with my entire family. Mom, Dad, sister, brother-in-law, niece, nephew, brother, sister-in-law, and us. All ten of us.

Romantic, n'est-ce pas?

Well, the truth is that Hubby and I would likely never have chosen a resort vacation if it were just the two of us anyway. Lounging around is not really our thing. Specifically, lounging around is not really Hubby's thing. I have no trouble doing as little as humanly possible for a few days. Hubby, on the other hand, goes squirrly after a couple of hours. Which is why we tend towards more active vacations.

But this particular trip was not about the two of us. It was about my Dad. And his 60th birthday. Which was actually last year. All he wanted to do was bring the whole family together for a vacation. But we failed to make it happen in 2013. So we were all bound and determined to make it happen this year. And make it happen we did.

Here are some highlights:

Running along the beach

Everywhere that I go, I bring my running shoes with me. Because there is no better way to get to know a new city than by running through it.

Except not every city has a travel advisory out stating that you should exercise a high degree of caution due to the high level of violent crime.

Gulp....

Okay. So no leaving the resort for me. No problem. Because there's a beautiful beach and a beautiful ocean right outside my cabana door.

The view of the beach from my balcony

With a view like this, who needs to leave the resort!

Well, the thing is that the resort is small. Like really small. Like really really really small. To run from one end of it to the other is less than 1km. And since I don't really consider it a workout if I get any less than 5km under my belt, it meant that I had to run back and forth and back and forth and back and forth and back and forth and back and forth again across the beach and through the resort. My route looked like this:

Screen shot from my RunKeeper app

I have to tell you, it's pretty boring to run the same route over and over and over and over again. Every single day. It's almost as monotonous as running on a treadmill, something that I hate so much that I run outside during Canadian winters, even when the temperature hits -40C. The only thing that kept me going day in and day out was the knowledge that I was burning off all those sugary calories from all those pina coladas I was sucking back.

Then again, I was running along a beach instead of through slush and snow. And I did have the beach all to myself on those early morning runs. Well, almost to myself...

Goats on the beach. Of course!

There was that family of goats frolicking along the shore. But no other humans, which was kind of nice, I guess. And I did get to hop right into the ocean to cool off after each of my sunrise runs, which is a pretty spectacular way to start the day. So I guess running the same loop over and over again wasn't all bad.

Snorkelling

I don't snorkel. Something about putting a tight fitting mask over my face makes the claustrophobe inside of me get a little anxious. Plus, I'm not smart enough to figure out how to put the darn mask on in the first place...

That's me... Trying to figure out a snorkel mask. Genius.

Then again, I don't get to hang out with my eleven-year-old nephew - who I am convinced is part fish - every day. So I agreed to give snorkelling a try just for him.

I lasted all of 15 minutes. I'm not a strong swimmer, and couldn't really keep up all that well anyway. And both my mask and my snorkel kept filling up with water, making it difficult to appreciate the bounty of the sea swimming below me. So I gave up, and left the snorkelling to the pros, like my Dad. Who spent hours out there looking at the coral reef, and who never hesitated for even a second when my nephew asked, "Who wants to go snorkelling?" Thanks for saving me from having to go back out there, Dad!

As for me, well, I took up this position with Hubby:


And from our poolside perch, we could watch Dad and nephew snorkel through the bay - 2 little dots on the horizon, bobbing up and down, coming up for air every few minutes to excitedly rave about all the different types of fish they found. They were best buddies out there, and it pulled at my heart strings to see them having so much fun.

The pool

Having no children of my own, I don't usually hang out at water parks. Plus Hubby hates water. So I didn't really expect to spend all that much time on the resort's water slides.

But then that pesky nephew of mine begged me to go down the water slides with him. "Just once, Auntie!" And so off I went with him to the top of this monstrosity:


I thought I could sneak away after one or two slides. But I didn't really want to. I'd forgotten just how much fun water slides can be. Especially when you are hanging out with an eleven-year-old whose eyes are shining with excitement. And so up and down we went, over and over and over again, racing each other to the bottom of the slides and then hurrying back up the stairs for another go. He even taught me how to go super fast, by lying on my back with my arms by my side and lifting up my bum so that only my shoulders and feet were touching the slide. Less resistance equals more speed. And a bigger splash when you enter the water!

Waiting for my brother-in-law at the bottom of the slides

When we weren't tearing up and down the slides together, we were hanging out in the pool. Where my favourite thing to do was to lounge around on a tire tube.

That's me, gracefully trying to get into the tube

But my nephew's favourite game was to sneak up to me while I was lounging on said tire tube and to flip me over. So I was particularly happy to watch him get a taste of his own medicine when he and his grandpa were hanging out in the pool:

Ooops!

While I spent my fair share of time in the pool with the nephew, there is no doubt that I much preferred being outside of the pool, with my niece. Lounging on a chair, reading a book, sipping a pina colada, and taking the occasional selfie:


Now that is more like it!

A stranger, my sister, me, and Dad

Private beach

The Oasis is part of the larger Sunset Resort, and it's a bit of an upgrade to stay there. You get an a la carte restaurant for all three meals instead of a buffet. You get to stay in a cabana instead of in an apartment tower. And best of all, you get a private beach, away from the hustle and bustle of the larger resort. And away from all those people fighting over beach chairs.

We spent most of our mornings and a few of our afternoons on the private beach. And for the most part, we had it to ourselves. It was fantastic. Peace and quiet, a nice cool breeze coming off the water, and the sound of those bleating goats. The perfect place to catch up on the many books downloaded onto my Kobo.

Riveting!

Incidentally, I tried all week long to get Hubby to get into the water with me. The Bay isn't very deep and it was nice and warm. So I thought for sure I could convince him to come for a dip. But alas, this is as far as he went:


Wouldn't even take his shirt off. Have I mentioned that he hates water?

At least I got him to pose for a couple of pictures with me, even if I couldn't get him to take off that shirt:



The local craft market

One of my favourite things to do when travelling to a new place is to check out the local market. Markets are so vibrant, the heart of many a city. Whether on the streets of Lima or the cobblestone squares of Bratislava, I have spent many an hour wandering from stall to stall to stall, checking out local wares and soaking in the aromas of local foods. And so Hubby and I were thrilled to learn that we could hire a taxi to take us into town to check out the local markets. We rallied the troops and set off for a couple of hours of shopping and people watching.

What 16-year-old girl doesn't want to go shopping?

Hubby and Mom gearing up for some good deals

My brother and sister-in-law ready to spend some dough!

Now like with any market, I expected that there would be lots of vendors trying to dupe tourists into buying junk. And this one was no different. Each and every stall carried an array of identical stuff - carved wooden snappers and turtles, woven bracelets, messenger bags, photos of Bob Marley, all of which looked to have been mass produced in China. But I was not prepared for just how aggressive things got at the market. The minute the taxi pulled up and the doors opened, vendor after vendor after vendor jumped all over our group, pulling all of us in separate directions to go and see their stalls first. "My lady, my lady! Please let me show you what I have." "Sir, bring your wife over here when you are done. You promise, okay?" "I have better prices over here. You come to my stall." It was overwhelming. And I quickly learned that the preferred tactic of every vendor was to practically push you into their stall and block your exit until you bought something. A few of the ladies even offered me "free" gifts if I would buy something from them. One went as far as to tie a bracelet on my arm, despite my protestations, which I had to forcefully remove as I muscled my way out of her stall. I just didn't like it at all. By the time the taxi driver came back to pick us up, I could have hugged him, I was so happy to be taken away from there.

Hubby, on the other hand, was in his element. He's a lawyer, after all, and so arguing and negotiating are two of his favourite things. While the rest of us were getting visibly more and more frustrated, Hubby played it cool and let vendor after vendor lead him from stall to stall, looking over piles of stuff before calmly making an offer for something that caught his eye, and then even more calmly walking away when the vendor wouldn't accept his price. He had vendors chasing him across the entire market, practically throwing their wares at him for a fraction of their original prices. "Sir, sir, I can give it to you for 10$. But you can't tell anyone else that I gave you this deal. Promise me that you won't tell anyone else!"

Watching the market from the safety of my taxi

Swimming with Dolphins

Ever since she was a little girl, my niece wanted to go swimming with dolphins. So when my sister and her family booked a trip to Dolphin's Cove in Ocho Rios, I decided to tag along for some quality time with the kids.

You had the option to swim with either one or two dolphins. Sis and I chose one while my brother-in-law, the kids and Dad chose to swim with two. The big difference is that when you swim with two, you lie face down in the water and the two dolphins swim towards you, plant their noses on the balls of your feet, and push you forward and up until you "walk on the water like Jesus Christ", in the words of the dolphin trainer. We watched as my Dad and nephew took turns giving it a try, but neither one of them was lifted straight up. More like they were propelled forward until they nose-dived back into the water. But then when it was my niece's turn, up she went, like a freaking pro, arms out over her head like she'd been doing this her whole life. I screamed out loud as soon as I saw it, I was so impressed. But what really got me wasn't her acrobatic, aquamarine grace. It was her smile. Her face lit up in the biggest smile that I have ever seen. I've never seen her look quite so happy. I wish I had a picture, but there are no cameras allowed in close range, and you have to saw off your right arm to pay for those taken by the staff. So the memory of that smile will have to do.

As for my sister and I, we got paired up with dolphin Mitch, the alpha male of the herd. Mitch is the sire of five baby dolphins in the cove, all of which have five different "baby-mamas". Bit of a Casanova, is Mitch! Our swim with him consisted of treading in place and tapping the surface of the water to call him over, at which point he swims up right between your arms, you grab onto his pectoral fins, and he drags you a few metres. Belly to belly with a dolphin for a few metres. Not something I ever really expected to do in this lifetime, and probably not something I would have done were it not for those kids. So thanks, niece and nephew, for this one of a kind memory!

Can't see a thing, but this is the cove where people swim with the dolphins

SuperBowl

Who goes and books a family vacation during SuperBowl?!? Well, we do. Which had a few of us football fans worried that we would miss the big game.

Not to worry. As soon as we checked in, Hubby and I asked the resort staff if they would be showing the SuperBowl anywhere, and they assured us that there would be a big beach party, complete with traditional SuperBowl fare. But then they went a step further, and set up a private room just for our family. Two t.v.'s, our very own chili, nachos, and chicken wings, and a bartender coming in to check up on us. Talk about service!

Nice set up - just for us!

Bringing in the food!

Perfect SuperBowl food!

Now if only the game would have been a little more entertaining.

Sistas!

I always knew that there was a strong family resemblance between my sister and I. But I didn't realize just how strong it was until I was walking alongside the pool with my nephew and a lifeguard screamed out, "Hey! Where's your sista?" About five minutes later, my sister and I walked by the same lifeguard, and he started exclaiming to his colleagues, "Hey! There they are! The sistas!" "They ain't sistas! They twins!" the other lifeguard hollered.

And so it was that for the rest of the week, my sister and I were known by staff and guests alike as "The Sistas". Everywhere we went, we were asked if we were twins, and had to explain that we were in fact separated by two years. On more than one occasion, my sister was even mistaken for me or vice verse.

So you be the judge. Do we really look that much alike?


Family


Our last night together

Let's be honest. The idea of spending an entire week with one's family can be a little daunting. Especially for the in-laws. In the lead up to our vacation, I may have overheard Hubby once (or ten times) say, "Yeah. We're going to Jamaica. With her whole family." Followed by him mouthing the words "Help me!"

And who can blame him. We're a crazy bunch. Like all families, we get on each other's nerves. In such close quarters, how could we not drive each other nuts?

But the thing about my family is that we are pretty tight. My sister is my best friend, and she married a great guy. Their kids are two of the most special people in my whole life, the closest thing I will ever have to children of my own. Being their auntie is probably one of my most satisfying roles. Then there is my brother and his partner, who go out of their way to help us out when we need it. And it's nice to have them in the same city as Hubby and I when everyone else is so far away; it makes me feel a little less isolated. Then there's my parents. It wasn't always easy back in the teenage days of living at home under their rules. But once I got over those awkward pubescent years, my parents and I genuinely became friends. Really good friends. And they love Hubby.

So being together, even on such a small resort where we couldn't easily get away from one another, wasn't really such a chore. It was actually a lot of fun. So fun, in fact, that my cheeks still hurt from laughing so much for seven days.

So here's to my crazy, loud, water-logged, wonderful family.

Selfie time for uncle and nephew

Selfie time with Auntie

A sight not often seen - Mom relaxing with a beer

My brother-in-law and niece hamming it up for the camera

Hubby and I

That nephew of mine is such a clown

Grandpa and grand-daugther

Playing cards with my sis

Auntie and niece cuddling up

Chilling with Mom

Going for a dip in the waterfall with Dad

I guess resort vacations aren't that bad after all. Especially if you surround yourself with those you love the most in the whole wide world.