Monday, March 25, 2013

Back to the Boat ... and Back to Winter

After three weeks surrounded by bright tropical colors - turquoise water, orange birds, green plants - the contrast when we returned to Washington was overwhelming.  We thought that by the time we came home winter would be over, but the city that greeted us was monocromatic.  Everything was gray: the concrete buildings, the sky, the water.  I was glad to be home but facing a bit of reverse culture shock.  Everything seemed so ... serious.  Somber.

We were glad to be back aboard the boat, but it was still covered with white shrink-wrap, the windows blind.   And that was the first change we had to make.  We carefully marked the plastic that had done such a good job of protecting us through the winter, hoping we could use it as a pattern for the cover we'd make for the boat for the next time we were going to winter in the north.  Then, with scissors and knives, we neatly sliced it and emerged from our cozy little cocoon.  It had taken about a week's work to enclose ourselves in November, and just a few hours to shake ourselves free in the spring.
Seeing a big bright new world -- I felt kinda like this as the shrink-wrap plastic came off!
In a way I'll miss some aspects of winter -- the quiet, the camaraderie of the few hardy ones of us who remained aboard, the stark beauty of the snow and the cozy warmth of our little cabin, with a pot of soup or stew simmering on the range.  Nothing to do, nowhere to go, lots of time to ponder.

But now, there's energy around the boatyard again.  People coming and going, putting sails back on, painting.  Boats launching, the empty dock beginning to fill up again.  Time to think about getting into sailing mode.  But just when I thought it was safe, winter gave us one last hurrah:
Photo by Helen McAdory

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Our Aruba Vacation: Part 4 -- This Really Is a Desert Island

On the rare times we got away from the beach, we are reminded that this island is quite dry.  Average rainfall per year is only in the teens of inches (reminiscent of our time in Denver, Colorado, but warm), and the constant wind and warmth makes it evaporate quickly.  These pix from our hike in the Arikok National Park give an idea of the native landscape:

If I hadn't told you this was in Aruba, you could almost believe I took the photo in  Arizona!

Hiking trail 

I think these iguanas are an endangered species, but they grow fat and happy around our resort:
Big iguana.  His smaller lizard cousins like to sun themselves on our patio in the afternoon.

We visited the factory where they make aloe vera products.  The plant, native to east Africa, grows well the Arubian climate.  
Aloe Vera field

We had one of these as a houseplant when we lived in Colorado
They have a remarkable property.  The leaves of the plant are filled with a clear gel that holds the moisture needed to survive in the arid climate.  This is the substance that is refined into an ingredient in so many cosmetic products.

Albert Tromp holds a cross section sliced from the base of an aloe vera leaf, showing the clear gel inside
How to scrape the filling out of a leaf, "Like filleting a fish," according to Albert's  colleague Randy.
The gel

It has a slimy texture!
We brought home lots of bottles of skin lotion fortified with this stuff.  Now, if only they could figure out how to bottle the sunshine for export back here to Annapolis!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Our Aruba Vacation, Part 3: Diving - The Best and the [Worst?]

We both really enjoy scuba diving, and this trip we had quite a range!  (If you're ever on Aruba and want to give it a try, we dive with Aqua Windie's Water Sports and I can't recommend them enough.  Family-owned business and in addition to excellent quality equipment and instructors, you'll feel like one of the family by the time you're done.)

About a week into our trip we scuba-ed at Baby Beach on the southeast end of the island.  It's considered a challenging dive, because there is generally a lot of current.  (This is the place where an American tourist a couple of years ago was either swept out to sea while snorkeling, or murdered for the insurance money, depending on which story you believe.)  But there were five of us who had been diving together before, and the divemaster agreed we were all skilled enough to attempt it.  Dan and I had had other plans before we were invited along, which we rescheduled to take advantage of this rare opportunity to try something new.

Knowing the area's reputation for current, we had planned it as a "drift" dive, where we would enter the water at one beach and get a lazy free ride downstream on the current until we came out at the next beach.   What we hadn't expected was just how strong the current was -- stronger than any of us could swim against for long as it swept us, helplessly and way too fast, past some absolutely spectacular sea life and scenery -- and not one of us escaped without some scrapes and bruises as the waves pushed us against the reef going out and coming in.  Wonderful and scary, we ended the day elated and exhausted at the same time.

Afterward, Dan and I agreed that this had been a once-in-a-lifetime trip.  Literally.  Because knowing what I know now, unless conditions are a lot milder, I don't think I want to attempt that dive again.

Exactly a week later, though, we were diving again.  It was a spectacular weather day, the most perfect diving conditions we'd ever had.  Easy, relaxed, and glorious contrast to the previous week.  After our second dive of the day I told Manon and Ed, who had both been with us the previous week, that I thought I'd never want to dive again.

"What?" Ed looked at me in amazement.  "Last week, after Baby Beach, I could understand you saying that. It was a tough day.  But today? Today was gorgeous! I don't get it!"

"Yes," I said.  "Today was gorgeous.  It was absolutely perfect - the company, the weather, the sights, everything came together perfectly.  The best its ever been.  That's just the point, it will never be that perfect again.  Ever after, will be a letdown."

(Photos by the incomparable Manon Houtman.  More of her dive photos are in this post from 2 years ago.)