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Hold the Grits

Filed under: General — 19day @ 22:12:52

So on the heels of going off to Cancun for a week, I was shipped off to Greenville, South Carolina for a week for work related stuff. I won’t go into the work stuff, but I did try to spend the rest of the trip like a mini vacation, so I took photos and such.

Just getting there proved to be the most harrowing part of the trip. A colleague and I arrived at Pearson with about an hour and a half before the flight, but by the time we worked out the pre-customs form stuff and got our boarding passes, we had about an hour left.

As we passed through US customs, I guess we didn’t say the right things, as we were shunted off to what I call a Detainment Area, where we were summarily fingerprinted, photographed and made to sit in a room with about 20 or so other people who looked like they weren’t going to be making it to their destinations either. We waited for quite a while, and overheard snatches of other people’s conversations with the agents, things like “we’re denying you entry to the US” and such, which made us think that the trip would be cut very short indeed. However, when it was finally our turn and we explained we were only going for meetings and not to actually work, which would have required a work visa, we were released to continue our journey. We made it through security without any issues (though I grumbles that I had to remove my loaner laptop from the apparently checkpoint-friendly laptop bag, the whole notion of it being checkpoint-friendly was to make it unnecessary to remove it) but when we made it to the gate, the tenders exclaimed “where were you? We’ve been paging.” Basically, we made it in time for the flight time, but normally by then they would have been on the runway about to take off. But we didn’t miss it, they quickly ushered us out of the building to the tarmac and up the staircase next to the plane. That was as new experience for me as well. I always felt it would seem more real to climb stairs into the plane, rather than just walk down the umbilical corridor into the doorway. So it was neat to finally get to do that. However, I feel now that instead of thinking it made it seem more real, I might have been confusing it with making it seem more like the movies.

The flight landed in Cleveland and we immediately disembarked and re-embarked at the same gate, though I’m not sure it was the same plane as the flight attendant was different. In total I think we spent maybe an hour in the air. I mean, by the time we reached cruising altitude, we had just enough time for the drinks trolley to pass before we’d be starting our approach to the destination airport. The company “travel agency” as it were arranged me a seat by myself in an aisle that only has one seat at all. That is, each row of seats is Seat, Aisle, Seat, Seat. So I got to be by myself with my immensity. It wasn’t painful to sit in those seats, but I wouldn’t say it was comfortable either, but I managed.

We stayed in the Hampton Inn, which had large rooms, large bathroom, large bed, it was quite nice, and more expensive than I would have stayed in myself if I were paying for it. Though the bathroom was well stocked with little containers of various products, each time housekeeping had been, things wouldn’t be quite right. For example one time I suddenly didn’t get a new container of shower gel, but instead had two containers of shampoo.

The hotel was right on a river which had, we were told, been beautified over the recent years. Where before it was a refrigerator graveyard, it now had little waterfalls and parks all around it. We walked around there a couple of times, usually on the search for restaurants, though we almost always ended up at the same one. Our favourite spot was a place called Smoke on the Water, and though the food was alright, it was the happy hour and $2 beers that brought us back. On our last night I had four beers, which probably was more beer in that single sitting than I had had over the course of the previous year.

The town, or at least the section we were near, was small, and reminded me of waterloo in the way that it seemed the whole place shut down at around 6. The only places that appeared to be open after leaving the restaurant were other restaurants. Unlike waterloo, the streets were dead too, without even drunken students to avoid. The general Greenville area seemed very large, but quite full of trees. Flying over it when we landed I remarked just how green it was from the sky.

The food was, as I’ve heard from other travellers to the Us, plentiful and inexpensive. At one place we were at twice, Cracker Barrel, our mains would have been quite enough, but we also got to pick 3 side-dishes, and cornbread of biscuits. And it came to 8 USD (which is pretty well 8 CND without dealing with fiddly small change). And most of the places were like that. One thing I noticed about the menu’s is that they would frequently use the word Veg where we would use Side. In that, a menu might say that with your burger you got two Vegs, the selection of them frequently included Macaroni and Cheese, which I found a little odd. And the bread you would get with your meal was frequently corn bread, which was a nice change. The only thing I noticed with drinks is the concept of Ice Tea. At home, it usually tastes like it was made from a sugary powder form. In the US (at least using the 2 sample points of data I have) it appears that if you ask for Ice Tea, you get Iced Tea, quite literally, and it is not sweetened. If you want that, you ask for Sweet Tea, but even then, it’s still more like actual tea, that’s been cooled down, and sweetened.

Everyone we met was reasonably friendly. Perhaps too friendly, as one incident will illustrate. So my colleague brought along his GPS and we relied on it quite heavily. On our way back from the office to the airport for the journey home, we started to drive but didn’t actually have the address of the airport, so we found an empty looking street, pulled off a bit, put on the hazard lights and started going through its database looking for the airport and, once found, for the satellites to find us as it usually took a while for the think to find its marbles. While we were there, a guy drove up behind us, waited for a second, then pulled off as well, and got out of his car. At this point we were a little worried, since this type of thing usually doesn’t go well, so when he approached the car, we lowered the window a bit, and the guy said in a reasonably southern accent “Hi’yall, you fellows okay?” (may not be an exact quote, but it was as disarming). We explained we were just setting up the GPS, thanked him, he wished us well and drove on. Friendly, yes, but we’re from Toronto, where such things are more alarming.

The flights home were mostly uneventful, it was pretty stormy when we made it back so it took a while to land, and I finally made it home to my apartment. I survived the US and all I got was this lousy pair of shoes (actually they are fairly nice shoes, bought because my current ones were failing apart as per the 6-month rule).

Two international trips in one year, I’m quite the jetsetter, thick sarcasm intended.



Filed under: General — 19day @ 20:59:27

I failed to write this up at the time, and now it has been a couple of weeks, but I recently traveled to Cancun with some friends. I won’t be doing a day by day analysis like I did with the Greece Trip, as the Cancun trip was more laid back, and also because I didn’t bring a notebook with which to jot down details as things went, but I’ll try to break things down into the days, and I might get details wrong, but essentially the whole thing went like this:

Day 1:

So it was an early morning flight, and I stayed over at Laura and Murad’s. They were going out for the evening, and so I was just going to sleep. They were supposed to be back at something like 11pm to finish packing and take a nap of their own, but when I woke up at 1am, they still weren’t back and I was kind of concerned. I phoned Laura’s cell just to have it ring next to me on the couch. But only minutes later they got back. They finished packing and we met up with Chez and drove to the airport around 4am. Alicia arrived in her own time a half-hour later and we eventually made it on the plane. The check-in lady remarked to me that I was very lucky, a statement I still have yet to decipher. A few hours later we arrived in Cancun, easily found our bus and headed off to the resort.

We first wondered around waiting for our rooms to be ready. Laura and Murad had a room, and Alicia, Chez and I had one next door. It took quite a while for them to be ready, and in our triple-occupancy room they consistently forgot to give us three towels, and their idea of handling the sleeping arrangements was to push the two double beds (if even that wide) together. Alicia and I slept together (the unexciting form) with me trying to stay on the edge where the two beds join. Chez took the other bed.

Our first act on the resort was to get a round of 5 tequila shots, the burning was quite intense. Then we hung out by the beach and the pool. And we ate at the buffet for dinner first, though we had full run of the place with our black bracelets. The heat most of the days was, to me, almost cartoonish. I likened it to the wave of heat you feel when opening the oven to pull your dinner out. Even in the shade it was fairly intense.


A promising start

Day 2:

This day began with going to our Sunwing representative in the main building to hear about excursions. At first we were the only ones there because apparently no one else could find the building. We opted not to go with the Sunwing excursion offerings but to go with offerings from the hotel itself. Then we pretty much just relaxed for the rest of the day, with having our excursions the next day and another 2 days later.

We often swam in the pools since they had the swim up bar. It also had the advantage of being still, not being intensely salty and not being painfully rocky, which the beach failed to be.

Swim Up Bar

Swim up bars might seem like a bad idea with the heat and swimming, but you’d be wrong

Day 3:

Our first excursion. My room nearly slept through it because our alarm was set to the right hour but as PM instead of AM. We rushed to get ready, some of us grabbed a quick breakfast at the buffet and made it to the van. It was a lengthy drive to the first section, which was in a jungle area where some Mayan’s hung out to take pictures of us and sell them to us. There was also the Cave. Ah, the Cave. We were meant to swim in it, and silly me, I thought the cave would be a horizontal one, where you swim into it. But this cave would be one you would merely fall directly down into, if not for the rappelling gear. So first we had a little ceremony with a Mayan who asked the land to accept us. If the land had any sense, it would have forbade me entry. I did make it into the cave, and out again, but it was an experience I’d rather not repeat, at least not with witnesses. But that was merely buttering me up for what was to come… for a little drive in the van later took us to the pyramid at Coba, and I managed after about half an hour and a liter of water to climb it. I can’t even be sure I didn’t die there and everything since has been residual neuron activity. Basically this excursion exhausted me physically and emotionally, and though I may be pleased after the fact that I made it to the top, I was less pleased at the time. Later we bought a CD with the photos they took of us (after forbading us from taking some ourselves at the cave) at quite the expense, but split 5 ways it was more reasonable.

Pyramid at Coba

I left behind pints of fluid at this place

Day 4:

This was a free day which I don’t have much recollection of what we did, other than relax. We played on the beach, which was always a challenge with the sharp rocks and the salt-water. That’s not to say it was fun, it was, but it was less fun the more the eyes stung to the point that you’d figure you’d be better off without them. I spent a bit of this time thinking about the day before and was pretty depressed about it. After dinner we went to the tail-end of a Mexican culture show put on in the hotel grounds, it was okay, but they did have a bit of a cock-fight at one point, and we were reasonably irked/displeased/uncomfortable with it. It didn’t go to any sort of conclusion, but certainly some feathers were flying at one point.

Cock Fight

I was hoping the birds would turn on their handlers

Day 5:

This was another excursion, but was mostly relaxing on a catamaran. We were among a small group of english speakers, the rest I think were all spanish speakers. We went out a ways into the water and then did about an hour of snorkeling, which I found interesting, but from what I’m told doesn’t hold a candle to Hawaii. We then went to Isla Mujeres for some more beach play and lunch, and later on we did some shopping, but I managed not to buy anything. When we went back to the boat, it was raining, but us Canadians are hardy, plus it felt good compared to the heat I normally felt on this trip. We also bought some photos, I bought one of us underwater. When we got back we had our first bus ride from the docks back to the hotel. After getting back we probably just relaxed some more, it was a day for that. We ate dinner at a weird buffet where you got your sides yourself buffet-style, but people came around with skewers of meat and gave you some if you wanted.


We snorkeled in this, we were told not to touch the fish, but they would often nearly slam into me

Day 6:

This was our shopping day, so we got on a bus and headed to Market 28, which was more reminiscent to me of Turkey’s market during the Greece Trip. The shop keepers were quite aggressive in trying to get your into their shops, but usually we’d decide based on which ones had air conditioning, since it was boiling that day. I ended up buying a plate, since it was once of the few things I saw that I didn’t see at every single other shop, plus I thought it would go well with my Greece bowl. The guy who sold me the plate demonstrated its hardiness by taking his keys and trying to scratch the hell out of it. Then, as a comparison, took another kind of plate of his own merchandise, and proceeded to dig gashes in it with the keys. So in the end Alicia and I each got a plate, but we pretty well failed to get a deal on them. They were 20 each, but he almost talked himself down to 35 for the pair of them, and we tried for 30, but he wouldn’t hear of it (this compared to some of the other shopkeepers where it was quite easy to talk down). In the end we got them for 34, sigh. Still, as the only thing I bought (other than a fridge magnet for someone else) I’m pleased enough with it.

That night we had dinner at the one restaurant where you needed a reservation. It actually demanded, for men anyway, dress shirt, dress pants and shoes. I had dressy enough pants, and my shoes are always the vaguely dressy work shoes, but I had no dress shirt. The closest I had was a sort of white pullover with collar. I had told my companions that if I was denied entry to just go on without me, but I got in okay, and in fact we were an hour late. Well, they wrote 8pm on our reservation ticket, while 7pm on their own books, but it was fine, we got our meal, and they served one of the best white wines I’ve had that wasn’t actually an icewine.

Market 28

This guy wouldn’t get out of my shot. I ended up buying a plate from him.

Day 7:

This was to be our last actual day, so it was mostly just relaxing. We hit our favorite restaurants for breakfast and lunch. For breakfast I had hotcakes which I forgot was a synonym for pancakes. For lunch we were back at the seafood place next to the sea we had been at a few days earlier. That time I had a bit of fish, which was alright but I’m still quite cautious of it. This second time I didn’t have the fish. We hung out by the beach a bit for our last swims. I decided to wear my sandals into the water which worked really well to avoid the sharp rocks and stubbing my toes. For dinner we went to the italian restaurant which, for some reason, had a fairly long wait. Once in, I copped out and had a personal pizza, but it being an italian restaurant I think its valid.

I’ll merge Day 8 in with this one because all Day 8 consisted of was finishing the packing, getting on the bus, getting back to the airport and getting on the plane. The only event of note was when I apparently set off the metal detector, a guy was telling me stuff in spanish and I just did what the movies told me, stand on the spot and raise my arms. They also put my carry-on through the detector again and swabbed it for some reason. As I was the only one to get subjected to that, I guess I did something wrong at some point, but I was a little anxious about it all, but that would be nothing compared to my trip to the states a few weeks later.


Last day at the beach, and just as rough as all the other days

Anyway, so that was the trip to Cancun. It was very hot, but fun overall. A week was a good length, the heat probably would have done me in if we had stayed two, heh.

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