Saturday 21 May 2016

A whirlwind of adventure and romance..

What a whirlwind of adventure and romance the past few weeks have been! Trav and I left our Caribbean island home of Utila on a visa-run to the USA, where we celebrated our 33rd wedding anniversary by renewing our wedding vows in Las Vegas, took a 600 mile round trip on a bus to drive over the Hoover Dam and travel along ‘the mother road’ of Route 66 before exploring the South Rim of the Grand Canyon and grabbing a last minute flight to Mexico for a second honeymoon.

Yes, really, it all happened exactly like that - although, when we set off, all we had was an 18 day window, a tight budget, a low cost flight to Sin City and a deal-of-the-day hotel reservation.

This time last year, in May 2015, we also had to do a visa-run/wedding anniversary trip and we'd flown to Miami Florida for Memorial Day weekend and then took a Greyhound Bus down to Key Largo and then onto Key West – where we spent our wedding anniversary. Afterwards we'd flown to New Orleans for a few days before going to the Bahamas and staying in a rental apartment just off Cable Beach, Nassau. It had all been amazing.

This year we decided to explore more of the USA and at the same time do something we had been talking about doing for years - renewing our wedding vows in Vegas – with Elvis.

We were SO excited about going to Vegas. It was our first ever visit and I kept thinking of all the movies I’d seen and all the TV shows about the casinos and the iconic hotels like the Bellagio, the Venetian, Caesars Palace, the MGM Grand. It was just as fabulous as we expected and we must have walked at least fifteen miles up and down The Strip that first day. Happily, our aching feet were relieved with all the complimentary drinks we were served in the Casinos while we gambled away a few dollars and won them back again!

All this excitement gives you a hearty appetite and we found the best value and most delicious dining was at the ‘big name’ hotel dinner buffets. We tried the Bellagio and the Wynn – the Wynn won – and their endless pours of champagne and wine made the gourmet food even more delicious.

The next day was our much anticipated special day - our second wedding day. We chose the Graceland Wedding Chapel, a traditional and also famous wedding chapel that offered Elvis themed weddings.

We had a stretch limousine to pick us up from our hotel. Ridiculously, I was bursting with excitement before I even saw it. Our driver had phoned to say, that when he picked us up, he would have to leave the car at the end of the drive AS THE CAR WAS TOO LONG for him to make the turn into the hotel’s circular driveway!

At the wedding chapel. I was given a red rose bouquet and Trav a red rose button hole. Elvis walked me up the aisle and sang a few classic songs while we joined in and danced. It was crazy fun!

As well as our wedding vows, we also recited the ‘Elvis vows’. Trav promised to Love Me Tender and not to leave me at the Heartbreak Hotel and I promised not to step on his Blue Suede Shoes or treat him like a Hound Dog. And the whole thing is on video!

The next day we were up early – 5am – as we had booked an excursion to the Grand Canyon. We chose to take a bus tour to the South Rim – a 600 mile round trip - but which offers a wider and more spectacular view of the canyon and also takes in the spectacular Hoover Dam and part of the famous ‘mother road’ of Route 66.

It was a long and exhausting day – but so worth it to walk the trail from Mather Point to Bright Angel Lodge along the south rim of the Grand Canyon.

Another big tick off the bucket list for sure!

As I mentioned, we hadn’t yet booked a flight out of Vegas, and because we were feeling tired from all our exciting activities, we decided to stay in Vegas one more night just so we could slow down, sleep in late, and have some time to discuss and plan the next part of our trip because we still had a couple of weeks before we needed to return to Utila.

We looked into going to San Francisco – another destination on our bucket list. I’d love to see the Golden Gate Bridge, all those famously steep roads and tramcars, and Alcatraz. Flight prices seemed reasonable but hotel prices were prohibitively expensive for our budget. So we looked at heading east instead using budget flights and Greyhound Buses to get to Nashville, to Louisville, and Lexington in Tennessee, because Trav had always wanted to do The Bourbon Trail. But again, on this occasion anyway, both logistically and financially, it seemed to be out of our reach.

So we looked outside the USA instead and on the internet we found a bargain flight to Cancun. Mexico is a country we had yet to explore and certainly a place that ticked all the boxes for sun and fun and as a ‘honeymoon’ destination. We struck lucky again and managed to also book a bargain all-inclusive hotel resort in Cozumel – an island just off the Mexican coast which seemed easy to reach from Cancun via a public bus to Playa del Carmen, a ferry over to Cozumel Island, and a taxi to our resort.

After an amazing 6 nights and 7 days of eating, drinking, and lazing on the beach or by the hotel pool, we decided to add a little adventure and some culture into the holiday mix, as we discovered there were Mayan ruins to explore just a couple of hours away in Tulum.

We checked out early the next morning (made difficult by the horrible hangover I was nursing from partying with our new friends by the pool bar the night before) and we took a ferry back over to the mainland and then a public bus down to Tulum.

Then we had a flurry of a drama at Tulum when we stepped off the bus and it promptly drove off with our luggage. We ended up chasing it across town on another bus until we managed to catch up with it and retrieve our bags!

In Tulum we stayed in a gorgeous little roadside hotel. It didn’t look like much from the outside but its few rooms were clean and comfortable. The place had a rich history and was atmospheric with lots of old photos of Mexican bandits and antique guns displayed on the walls!

The hotel offered us bicycles to get to the ruins – which would have been a good idea early in the morning but by this time it was mid-afternoon and blisteringly hot – so we opted for a short taxi ride instead.

Seeing the Mayan ruins first hand and walking around the ancient site at Tulum was a wonderful experience; for me it was akin to walking around the ruins of old castles in Scotland, seeing the great pyramids in Egypt, or visiting the sacred Buddhist temples of Thailand. I do love old places and the feel of history they evoke and so I now wished we’d had the time to take in the great Mayan step pyramid ruins at Chichen Itza, which were only a few hours away from Tulum, and to visit and swim in the many Cenotes, the fresh water pools and caves in the region. Oh well, places and adventures for another visit to Mexico, perhaps?

It was time to make our way back to Cancun, to Houston, and to home.

We’d experienced another amazing trip, had another fabulous and exciting adventure, and made a few more ticks off our bucket list.

What’s next? Well, Trav has some very exciting diving commitments over the next few months and I have a new book to finish writing. Then, as the end of the year and the rainy season approaches, and another visa-run is required, we will no doubt fly away again like birds on migration to another place and on another adventure.

Until then, I’ll continue to post about island life, about writing and my progress on the new book. I’m excited because my lovely cover designer has now produced the cover for Island in the Sun – and it looks fabulous – but I feel I must actually produce more of the novel before I can legitimately show it to you!

Please do feel free to leave a comment or ask a question or tell me about your own exciting plans and adventures – I’d love to hear from you.

Love, Janice xx

Tuesday 3 May 2016

Back on our island home and unpacking our backpacks...

Hello friends and family! I know - it has been a while since I’ve updated my blog and it’s been two whole months since we arrived back on our beautiful island home in the Caribbean - but after a fabulous but exhausting four months travelling around Asia I really felt the need to unwind and settle down and unpack my backpack.

Trav and I are happy to be back on our Caribbean island home of Utila

Happily, it didn’t take us long to slide back into the laid back Caribbean lifestyle here. Trav is diving and I’m trying to perfect the art of balancing fun, relaxation, and work – yes work - I actually have to do some because my next novel won’t write itself and my travel features all have deadlines!

This is our fourth extended stay on the island of Utila and our time spent here now adds up to a full year - but the time passes so quickly – and I can’t actually believe we are now into May 2016.

During our first week back on the island it was my birthday. I celebrated with drinks on the dock bar at Ecomarine dive centre and was thrilled to catch up with so many dear friends. Later we all went out to dinner to the Foo King Wok Restaurant. It was a fun night and I didn’t mind one bit that I got a year older. My present this year was a bicycle. I haven’t owned a bicycle since I was about 12 years old but it is a fun and fast way to get around the island. I love it – and now have a shopping basket fixed onto the front too!

My fun and delicious birthday dinner at Foo King Wok Restaurant
Birthday drinks at Ecomarine Dive Center bar with my lovely friend Tara
My birthday present - I love it!

The rest of March whizzed by - filled with sun and fun and diving and snorkelling and boat trips and picnics and BBQ’s over on Water Cay – one of the small islands off Utila and a favourite spot for spending time on the beach and catching up with friends.

On the 1st April we were so excited because two of our sons, Ben and Iain, were arriving from Edinburgh UK with their lovely girlfriends, Hayley and Brogan. They were to spend two weeks on the island with us and they were looking forward to lots of sunshine and fun and diving.

Ben and Hayley and Brogan and Iain
We had a great time introducing them to the island and to all our lovely friends. We went on a rum-crawl taking in all the infamous bars on the island like Rehab and Skid Row (and getting the t-shirts) and we had fun horse riding and swiming and paddleboarding and jumping and swinging off the dock into the sea as well as spending quite a few days out on the dive boat with Ecomarine.

Ben and Iain are already qualified dive instructors and the girls wanted to do their Discover Scuba Diving courses. One of those days out on the boat turned out to be very special indeed because we spotted and swam with a whale shark and, not one, but two pods of dolphins. It is such a joy to swim so close to these beautiful and wild creatures. Thanks to David Thatcher for the great photos taken on the day of my first whale shark and dolphin close encounter!

During their stay it was Iain’s 23rd birthday and we celebrated with a day at Coral Beach and with lunch and cocktails and birthday cake at Neptune’s Bar and Grill.

Meanwhile on the other side of the world in South Korea, our middle son, James, who also has a birthday in April, was soon to celebrate his 25th birthday. We sent him our love and wished him a happy birthday from afar. This was his birthday photo - and he looks like he's having a good one!

Over the weekend during the 'kid's' stay we all rented a private island in the Cays – a small island called Little Cay – and although we did spent a considerable time lazing about in the sun, drinking cocktails and eating BBQ food, my husband Trav and son Iain also spent a lot of time in the crystal clear and warm water of the house reef teaching Brogan her Open Water Diver certificate!

Little Cay - one of the tiny private islands off Utila that you can rent and have all to yourselves...

Congratulations to Brogan who is now a qualified Open Water Scuba Diver!
The two weeks with Ben and Hayley and Iain and Brogan went by far too quickly and soon it was time to wave our loved ones off at the airstrip on Utila. I can't even begin to tell you what it meant to Trav and I to have two of our sons with us on the island and we hated to say goodbye. We hope to see them again somewhere in the world maybe later in the year, but they have busy lives and demanding careers, and so if things don't work out it could actually be a long time before we see them again. I try not to dwell on that because I miss our sons so much and I'm so happy to have shared these fun times with them and their lovely ladies.

Then it was time for Trav to get back to diving and for me to get back to work. I’m working on a new novel right now and it’s had a few stops and starts over the past few months, what with with all the travelling and fun and adventures we’ve been having. So it’s time I got down to some serious writing...... but then it was Captain Steve’s birthday...... and we were invited out to a beach BBQ and party. So the fun goes on - and the new novel is getting written - but slowly. You can see my problem here!

Now we are into May and to Trav and I that means two things – it is time for a visa run and it’s also our 33rd wedding anniversary. Both those things together means a trip off the island and a reason to celebrate.

Where to? Well, we have made plans to go over to the USA for a few weeks.

You might remember that this time last year we planned to visit Miami and the Florida Keys from Key Largo down to Key West (which we did by Greyhound Bus). We then decided to go onto New Orleans and extend our trip further by spending almost a month in the Bahamas.

The entire trip was a fabulous a bucket list dream. You can read more about that particular trip by clicking on the highlighted text for my blog post on Florida and on the Bahamas or you can go and read my travel guide to New Orleans and The Florida Keys published online with award winning LLm lifestyle magazine.

We are not sure of our entire travel itinerary this time around - which in my opinion makes a trip more flexible, spontaneous and fun - but we do know that we will have to head first over to the Honduran mainland so that we can take an international flight to Houston Texas. Then, after an overnight in Houston, we will fly onto Las Vegas!

We have not been to Sin City before - so it’s another fabulous bucket list destination – and we are SO excited about that.

So do please come back here and join me soon for an update on the trip!

Love, Janice xx