Thursday, December 28, 2006

2006 Political Bowl

Even in the 2006 Political Bowl, pitting the UC Berkeley Golden Bears against the Texas A&M Aggies, it was better to be a liberal than a conservative. Apparently sports, like art, can imitate life.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Most Shocking Christmas Ever

This weekend was the most shocking Christmas ever. No one got electrocuted, though that might also have been fun. My husband and I spent five days with my family, and it was actually nice. I didn't ever want to kill my crazy middle sister. My mom and dad only yelled at each other once. My husband didn't strangle my dad. My dad's sermons didn't make me want to gouge my eyes out. My mom didn't give me a case of Ramen and some dry erase markers as my Christmas present. My little sister didn't run off to her room crying. It was great!

There were some nice times, too, to go with the absence of killing and death. We played a few games where no one pitched a fit when they realized they were going to lose. My sister went running with me, and we actually had a nice conversation. There were a few conversations that didn't revolve around food. My little sister practiced for the last two months on a flute concert that she gave us, and sounded really great. My husband went out on a bike ride and got not one, but two flat tires, and some nice guy gave him a ride back to the house. My mom found a woman leaving Christmas Eve services realizing this would be her first Christmas without her husband, and she had no family around to celebrate with her, so my mom invited her to the house for Christmas dinner.

It was just a breath of fresh air to see how my family could act when everyone was on their best behavior. I guess there are families out there that always act civilized, but mine's not one of them. This year, it turned out we had a really nice holiday. I hope yours was also memorable, and was so because of the nice memories it produced!

Dreaming Life

Last night I dreamed that I was having a party, and my favorite aunt came to it from a long way away. Then, she collapsed in the middle of the party, and had to be taken away in an ambulance. We found out she was pregnant, and had a baby. But when I went to the hospital, the baby was tiny and missing an arm. Someone that was there needed a postage stamp, and I happened to have one, so I went down to the parking garage to get it, and the elevator malfunctioned, catching my arm and causing a scare, but I was lucky and unhurt. As I got to my car, I decided to go somewhere and then a carjacker appeared in the garage and pointed his gun at me. I slammed on the accelerator to get away, and ducked to miss getting shot. However, my car just wouldn't speed up, so the man was able to walk up to my car. As he was about to shoot me, I woke up.

As my husband decided that he is now ready to have children this weekend, he also gave me a glimpse into the depression that rules his brain. I think my brain was trying to work out why every good thing also comes with a bad thing.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

I Can't See What They're Thinking

I have quite a few blind and visually impaired acquaintences. It helps to understand the struggles, since I'll likely be there, myself, at some point in the future. Meanwhile, one of the things that always causes problems for them is our stinking US paper money. Some of them have elaborate ways of folding different denominations so they can find them in their wallets. Some keep certain bills in one pocket and other bills in a different pocket to keep them straight. But nearly always, they have to rely on other people to tell them which bills are which, and this results in trust issues and sometimes, I'm sorry to say, they are taken advantage of.

And then you go anywhere else in the world, and you see how that country's money wouldn't present the same challenges that ours does. Each denomination is a different size, or has the demonination numerals punched out in the money, and often different colors, which helps the folks who can see a little. Obviously, this would make their lives easier.

But in a recent statement from our government, they are appealing a ruling by a district court that our paper currency is discriminatory to blind people. The district court had noted that there are 180 countries in the world with paper money, and we're the only country that doesn't accommodate for visual impairments with our money in some way. The ruling says we can punch holes in our money or put Braille lettering on our money or make them different sizes, but we have to make it possible for all people in our country who use our money to be able to use our money.

Our government claims that it would be too hard for the vending machines to get switched. Is the Vending Machine Lobby honestly that powerful, that our government would send out a stupid sounding appeal? Thay also claim that varying the size would be inordinately expensive. Then vary the color and punch out numbers or add Braille dots!

Meanwhile, they say that the money isn't discriminatory, because blind folks can use portable currency readers. Oh sure, they can all afford to spend $270 to find out which money they are spending. The other option the appeals brief offers is that they could use credit cards. Can you find any segment of people that all qualify for credit cards? And since when does every retailer in the US take a credit card? One of our favorite restaurants over here only takes cash and check -- so blind people just aren't allowed to eat there because the VML is more important?

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Questionable Pictures

Recently in the local news, there has been much buzz about a teacher who took pictures of girls at his school. He's taken pictures of their rear ends in the hallway at school, and even took pictures of them going up and down the escalator in the local mall, all without their knowledge. Obviously, this guy must be a sicko.

You may know where I'm going with this, but just in case you don't, I'll continue.

Maybe it's just me, but I don't get where the problem is in this "crime". The girls didn't know they were being photographed until the story broke. So, it's not like he took them into a room and forced them to dress a certain way or pose provocatively. Just girls walking through the mall. Surely the pictures couldn't have been that sexy if they were doing their normal thing out in public at school and in the mall. Well, they could, but this is not a post about skimpy teenage fashions. Regardless, they weren't forced to do or wear anything they didn't choose of their own accord.

I honestly don't care if he takes a gazillion pictures in public places and jacks off to each and every one of them during his sad life at home. It's kind of like how my husband doesn't like me to line-dry my underthings in the back yard, because there is an apartment building behind us, and he's concerned that some sick guy is getting some pleasure out of looking at my bra hanging there. Personally, that doesn't bother me at all. As long as the guy never involves the girls directly, it seems like a victimless activity. The girls didn't know they were being photographed, so how could that be traumatizing to them until the story details became public? According to the stories, the teacher never made any threats to the girls or touched them inappropriately or tried to get them alone or anyrhing like that. So what is he being jailed for?

My concern is that he is being charged with the assumption that he would try to physically do something in the future. The logic there is that the pictures now would lead to molestation or rape at some point in the future. It is totally unacceptable in the United States of America that we would jail someone on the supposition that they might do something at some point in the future. That gets all Minority Report and creepy. Even more creepy than some dude taking picture of girls in the school hallway.

It sends me down a whole other tangent about jailing terror conspirators before they've actually done anything. But that will have to be left for another day.

Monday, December 11, 2006

The Pinnacle of Texas Sports

The top sport in the state of Texas is football. And nothing really riles up the folks in Texas towns like the high school variety. This weekend, I had the opportunity to go to a 5A quarterfinal game. My little sister's school was still playing, so I drove out to meet them and watch them play a tough game against a team that was bigger and faster. More exciting than the game (which was plenty of a nailbiter, and her high school will be playing again next week) was the pageantry that goes with the overall event.

To start, the teams ran through smoke in their inflatable tunnels with animal mascot heads to the sounds of bands playing fight songs, erupting crowds and the announcer reading off the list of all 44 starters (offense and defense for each team). The cheerleaders and mascots for both teams were then introduced individually. Then there was the playing and singing of the respective alma maters, a prayer, and then an announcement of what good sportsmanship really means to the UIL group regarding high school sporting events. The singing of the national anthem came next, followed by the bands playing musical challenges at each other. All of this before the game ever commenced.

I was struck by how many people really come together to make a high school football game happen. At our particular game, between players, managers, drill teams, cheerleaders, bands, and everyone else, there were 1100 kids participating between the two schools. Absolutely incredible.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Vacation: Returning on Tuesday

Tuesday morning we got up and drove back to the Cancun airport for our flight back to the US. We had no travel issues of any kind, and got back safely in the early evening. My Spanish got a little boost, but then it had no where to go but up. My metric also got a big boost, with road signs in kilometers, hotel scales in kilograms, and weather reports in Celsius. We got to eat good food and sleep well. We also got to really relax and refresh ourselves for regular life back at home, which is the point of vacation. I can officially call our vacation a success. Woohoo!

Vacation: Learning on Monday

Our plan Monday morning was to get up early and visit the Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza before the tour groups got there, around noon. When we got up, however, the rain had other plans for us. It had rained for a while when we woke up, and it didn't really show any signs of stopping anytime soon. So, we looked for an umbrella or a poncho or something, but there wasn't anything in the room. We went down to the front desk and asked there. After several back and forths where they assured us there was an umbrella in the room and we assured them there wasn't, we finally found that they didn't have any extras. So, we resigned ourselves to getting wet. And the underwater housing for the camera came in handy.

The Mayans were obviously geniuses of stone work and construction. I don't know how much, if any, the ruins at Chichen Itza have been rebuilt or restored, but the overall complement of structures is mind-boggingly stunning. We started at the hotel's entrance to the ruins, but we might have ignored certain directional signs and gone some ways not so well traveled. We came, first, upon a temple that wasn't anywhere on our map, but it was also not corded off, as the later structures we saw were. There was no plaque describing this structure, but it was definitely a temple of some sort. While the carved stone altar was impressive, the most compelling things in the temple were the 50 or so columns. Each column was about 2 meters tall, half a meter in diameter, built like a layer cake with alternating layers of smoothly cut stone about 8 centimeters tall and layers of 3 centimeters of jagged small stones mixed in with the mortar.

The rest of the ruins were named and described on plaques in the ground. We saw many more temples, more of the columns, several platforms, etc. Some of the carved reliefs were very detailed, showing obvious reverence for snakes, eagles and jaguars. We walked out to a cenote, sort of a sacrificial sinkhole where offerings of various kinds were made into the water about twenty meters below. We saw a ball court where a Mayan version of a cross between soccer and basketball (as best as archaelogists can guess, apparently) was played. It was very neat to see that the basketball stadium and hoops really did have their roots in American history. :)

The Kukulcan Temple is the centerpiece of this ancient city, and the pyramid-like structure is nothing short of awe-inspiring. The whole thing is probably four stories tall and approximately 50 meters on each of its four sides. Each of the sides has a stairway to the top, and the sides of stairs end in giant serpent heads. The Mayans also knew the way the sun worked, so as the sun sets on the vernal and autumnal equinoxes, the stairstep sides of the pyramid make a shadow with the serpent heads such that the shadow looks like a snake slithering on the ground. We didn't get to see this phenomenon, as we were a little late in the year (or very early, depending on how you want to look at it). But it certainly looked believable that that kind of shadow could occur.

The motivating reason for the trip into Chichen Itza was the observatory. The Mayans were enamoured with the sun and the moon and the stars, and had studied and catalogued many astronomical events from this location. The placement of the windows and markings inside the domed building indicate study of the equinoxes, the highest and lowest points of the moon, and the various solstices. It was great that this was one of the structures they really let us climb around and through and on. Very impressive that they understood so much about the yearly calendar.

As we finished up, the tour groups were showing up, and it was starting to get crowded. We returned to the hotel to get changed out of our wet clothes, and decided to trek into the little town of Piste for lunch. The food at the hotel was pretty bad, so this wasn't too difficult a decision. The hardest part was whether our Spanish was good enough to eat in a town where English probably wasn't spoken much. We ate at a place where a woman was grilling half-chickens at the storefront, with tables behind her. At the back of the 3-sided building was a man behind a counter. The couple's 7- or 8-year-old daughter was our waitress, and we ordered drinks and some chicken enchiladas. We then saw the little girl walk across the street to a market to buy tortillas and a few other things. I guess that's one way to make sure you don't have anything go to waste. The enchiladas were amazing, and when we requested the check, the woman told us they were 85 pesos. 85 pesos? Are you serious? That's like 8 bucks for two plates of enchiladas and a liter of bottled water. It was easily the cheapest and tastiest meal we had on our trip. Totally worth the couple of awkward conversational moments. Emboldened by our success, we went to a local grocery store and bought some cookies for dessert.

We rounded out our day with a nap, and packing to head home. That was Monday, and we slept well.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Vacation: Exploring on Sunday

Sunday morning we got up and packed our things and checked out of the hotel. It had been a nice stay, but now it was time to go. The conference was over, and we had other plans for the rest of our trip.

But, before we left Cozumel, we wanted to check out the rest of our temporary home. So, we left our bags with the bellman, jumped on our trusty scooter, and headed out to explore the rest of the island. We drove to the south point of the island, and walked around for a bit, but that eastern side was the nicest part, and we enjoyed it thoroughly.

We stopped at one point where the reef rock shoreline was home to a wave-land blowhole. I'm not exactly sure how the phenomenon works, but every time a wave crashed into the shore, the pressure built up under certain rocks further inland, and the water shot straight up one to three meters into the air. It was kind of like a cyclical geyser, but mostly reminded me of the blowhole on a whale or a dolphin. Very nifty little oddity in nature.

We stopped a little further up the coast and enjoyed a pristine piece of beach where you could look forever and see no footprints in the sand or buildings on the beach -- just the untouched, natural beauty of the ocean meeting the island. The vegetation was stunning. I noticed how bright the greens and yellows and oranges and red and purples were. Nothing pastel here, only bold colors that indicate a world that is proud and strong.

We continued on, stopping periodically to take a stroll or a picture. We stopped at the San Gervasio ruins, but the guy in the booth talked us out of going to see them. "It's six more kilometers in, and then it'll take an hour to walk through it, and there's not even much to see there -- these are not the good ruins." How can you argue with a salesman like that? So we went on to complete our circumnavigation of the main island road, ending with the experience of getting gas for the scooter. Did you know we went all around that island for two bucks in gas? I've gotta get me a scooter. But I think a sidecar would make it more stable and less likely to skin my knee.

Once we got back to the hotel, my husband took a taxi with our luggage, and I took the scooter in to be returned. We met at the ferry there to go over to the mainland. It rained while we waited to be loaded onto the ferry, which wouldn't have been a big deal, but it was actually a bit cold and windy. We should have realized that standing in the cold rain wouldn't be the worst of it. The ferry ride started out fine, but I noticed that we were pitching back and forth with the waves quite a bit. After ten minutes or so, I remembered that my husband gets seasick very easily. I located the restroom, and then braced myself for how he'd handle the ride. As it turned out, I needn't have worried about him. He leaned his head forward and fell asleep for most of the 45-minute boat ride. Other passengers didn't fare so well. The crew handed out lots and lots of seasickness bags, and one poor girl spent the whole ride in the bathroom. She did emerge at one point for about twenty seconds before she dashed back in the door. But my husband was a champ -- he didn't even get woozy!

Once we arrived in Playa del Carmen, we dragged our stuff to the bus station and took the bus to the Cancun airport. There, we got the rental car my husband had reserved for us for the mainland part of our trip. Once all was settled, we began the three-hour drive to Chichen Itza, home of the most famous Mayan ruins.

We arrived after dark, and settled into our room with its carved mahogany doors and bedframes. The window shutters were most interesting. The windows were just screens on the inside and outside, the shutters were like four-centimeter-wide venetian blinds. But, rather than a string to raise and lower them, there was a lever to twist them open or sealed shut. Once the lever was in place, the knob at the end of the lever turned to lock the shutters in place. They are hard to explain, but they were a nifty little simple machine.

Throughout the day, we experienced quite the variety in modes of transportation: on foot, scooter, taxi, ferry, bus, car. By the end of it, we weren't sure it was still Sunday, but we went to sleep, and slept well.

Vacation: Driving (not Diving) on Saturday

Saturday morning I got up and decided to go for a run on the island. I ran toward town a couple of miles and returned to the hotel. It was a nice relaxing run, and the humidity was tempered by a little bit of rain while I was running. When I returned, the bellman met me with a cold minty washcloth and a bottle of water. He said he saw me leave and was waiting for me to get back. Service like that sure is nice!

When I got back to the room, my husband was working on his talk since he was slated to give it that afternoon. He wanted to have it done by noon, in order to have time to practice so I decided it was best to stay out of his way. I went to breakfast by myself, and had food sent back to the room for him. It was almost meditative to sit there, watching the ocean, not having to make conversation with anyone.

Once I was done with my leisurely breakfast, I went back to the room to find my husband stressing. Clearly he wasn't going to finish his slides by noon, so I headed down to the beach with my book. If he was going to be making a stress scene of his vacation, I didn't need to be part of that. I came back in time to confirm that he'd run everything down to the wire, having me proofread his presentation slides while he took a shower at 1:45 for a 2pm conference start.

Once he was safely off to the conference, I started my afternoon adventure. I got a taxi into town, and walked around all the shops. Somehow I found absolutely nothing to buy, except a nice sangria soda. Then I wiggled my way to my intended destination: a scooter rental shop. Now, I've never driven a scooter, and I told the guy as such. He gave me the crash course in starting and driving the scooter. As I took the helm of the bike, I must have hit the gas a little, and it jerked forward. The rental guy asked again if I was really going to be able to handle this thing, and I assured him that I would. I put on the helmet they gave me, and started the couple mile trek back to the hotel with my new-toy-for-24-hours. Conveniently, the drive back to the hotel was pretty direct, so I didn't have too much to really do. I just had to stay on the road, not crash, and keep that stupid helmet from trying to choke the life out of me. I, apparently, have a small head -- a large ego shoved into the tiny circumference of my noggin. In marching band in high school, they gave me the smallest hat they had, and they were annoyed that they might have to purchase a smaller hat if I couldn't get that one to work. Baseball caps just don't get small enough for me. And rental scooter helmets are decidedly enormous. It just kept flopping back, causing the chip strap to strangle me. I started to wonder if the hardest part of driving the scooter was dealing with the helmet. Regardless, I made it back to my hotel, and parked, and went looking for my husband for their dinner break.

His presentation had gone wonderfully (he has a knack for that sort of thing -- procrastination until beyond the end of the line, and then delivers something better than expected), and many people were wanting to talk with him before heading off to dinner, so we got a bit of a late start. Since the closing proceedings were slated to be after dinner, we had to get a move on. He was shocked I'd managed to get the bike out to the hotel, so we took the adventure back to town for dinner. He drove, this time, and I rode in the back. Based on all the fun I'd had with the helmet, we decided not to wear them for this trip. He didn't have any experience with a scooter, either, and we hadn't really learned the Mexican street signs, so we were an odd pair trying to make this work. I had identified a restaurant during my afternoon wanderings, so I was trying to direct us back there. When you're walking, though, one-way streets don't mean as much. I told him to turn down a specific street, and we came face-to-face with a taxi going the correct way down the road.

Since braking and accelerating occur from the same handle, stopping can be a little tricky, and this situation was no different. We fell over on the street, and had to jump up and get the bike out of the way. He seemed to be completely fine. I skinned a knee, bleeding through my slacks, and got a couple of bruises. But I can't complain -- it is my fault we went down that road. Once we actually got to dinner, the food was good, but we were a little traumatized by our scooter issues. We did, however, get back to the hotel without incident.

After the closing presentations and a mixer (where ordering a pina colada apparently gets you a shot of tequila -- oops!), we were worn out by our adventures and all the last minute presentation stuff.

So that was Saturday, and we slept very well.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Vacation: Diving on Friday

Friday morning began much the same way Thursday did, and we were on the boat out to the first dive spot by 7:30. Our first dive was another section of the Palancar reef, called the Palancar Bricks. Here, the reef grows straight up, and didn’t grow back upon itself like the caves. This was, by far, the most amazing dive of the trip. We saw manta rays and a lobster, tons of fishes including flounders, and my absolute favorite tropical plant/animal/thingy in the ocean. I have no idea what they are called, so if you know, please tell me. The little creatures are stationary, attached to pieces of coral, and they extend out about 3 centimeters. Along the main stalk, there are 3-4 rings of increasing size (kind of like a classic toy). Each ring is made up of light, wispy strings sticking out. If you cause waves to run near the little dudes, they retreat into their bases, and then reemerge later to gather whatever floats by. I have called them Christmas tree worms, just to have a name to refer to them, but I have no idea what they are actually called. Regardless, once I saw my favorite little creature, I was all set for my diving fix.

We spent our surface interval hanging out at the beach again, chatting amongst the divers in the group. Our second dive was at a place called Tormento Reef, and this was another dive where we went where the current took us. Here we watched another ray trying to shake a large fish that was following along right above it. It was almost comical to watch. We saw several barracudas, and caught a glimpse of an eel heading for cover. This was a great dive, but I was starting to get fed up with my dive mates who couldn't seem to do a three-minute safety stop in less than fifteen minutes.

We returned to the hotel for lunch and a shower, and I went on my next mission -- an attempt to get hold of a scooter for a day. We thought this might be a good way to enjoy some more of the island without going broke paying for taxis. I asked a lady who seemed to be manning a concierge-type desk, but she then trapped me for 45 minutes to talk about a timeshare with the hotel. Ack! I did eventually escape, and wandered around the rest of the hotel. Eventually, I ended up on the beach, reading again. It was very relaxing, even if cliche.

After the conference finished up for the day, niether of us was very hungry or interested in any more interaction with the other attendees. So, we holed up in our room reading and working and sleeping and watching TV with Spanish subtitles. I decided that helped me learn Spanish words better than Spanish TV with English subtitles. Not sure how much I really learned, but I did pick up a few things.

And that was Friday, and I slept well. My husband was working on his conference presentation and an application for a job in Munich until well into the night.

Vacation: Diving on Thursday

We got up in the morning, and gathered all our scuba diving equipment. We were to be down on the hotel’s dock at 7:30, and we certainly didn’t want to be late. As we approached the dock, the boat was arriving, and we loaded up. There was some question back in the hotel room about whether wetsuits were really necessary, but as our divemaster put on his full-body wetsuit, we followed along and did the same.

Our first dive was at a location called the Palancar Caves. This is a section of the main reef where the coral has grown up and back onto itself, creating holes in the reef that divers can swim through. Now, the first dive after a long hiatus is always a bit rocky. My last scuba dive had been in Cyprus, two and a half years before. So, I had a bit of rust to knock out of my diving. This particular dive where we had to come very close to the coral and the seafloor was probably not the best way to get un-rusty. I was incredibly worried about bumping into things, and for good reason. I know I touched coral three times in the dive, and I wasn’t the only one in our group. In fact, the reef generally looked like there had been a lot of divers before us that had done the same. It could be that the beat up look comes from the damage the island sustained a year ago from Hurricane Katrina, but that seemed unlikely at 30 meters. Fifteen meters, probably; but not much below that. We did see lots of colorful fish, most of which I can’t identify by name, but there were yellow ones and bright blue ones and red ones and purple ones and multi-colored ones. It was very pretty, but mostly I was just happy to have that first dive of the trip under my belt, and reminding myself of all the things one must remember while diving.

The surface interval involved us hanging out on a beach for an hour, just basking in the sun. There’s not much one really wants to do while outgassing the nitrogen from the dive. It’s surprising how tiring a dive can be when you’re really not doing much. After that we were back in the boat and on our way to the second dive of the day. I can now say I’ve done most every kind of scuba diving entry that can be done. During my certification, we did dock entries where you basically step off the dock into the water. In Bonaire, we did shore entries where you load up your equipment on shore and walk/swim out from there to do your dive. In Cyprus, we did great strides off the back of the anchored dive boat. Here we’re doing backward falls off the side of the boat. Very interesting how few dive trips I’ve done, and yet how much variety there has been. There’s been as much variety in the underwater view, too, but I digress.

Our second dive was in a spot called Los Palmas, and this was a current dive. We basically dropped down to our intended depth, and let the current drag us along and that’s how we went by the reef. We saw a huge turtle, and lots more of the fish from the first dive. There was a bright red and green parrotfish that I followed for a while, and then it decided to relieve itself, which was interesting to watch. There were tons of brain coral and sponges and wispy floating plants connected to the coral. This was also a very pretty dive, and I was amazed how long our dives were – 60-70 minutes! Usually, when you have a group of 6 people diving, someone will go through their air faster than the others, and we’ll have to surface earlier. Usually that someone is me. But my air consumption wasn’t the limiting factor this time!

We got back to the hotel in time to rinse off gear, take a quick shower, and grab a bite to eat for lunch before my husband had to head off to the conference. This conference was set up specifically to allow attendees to go diving in the morning, so it started at two o’clock each day and went into the evening. As he went to talks, I went back to the room for a nap. I tend to go to sleep after eating, anyway, but the morning was so busy that I was legitimately tired, too. In the evening, my husband had hooked up with a guy from an observatory that is currently wooing him to go work there, so we went into town and had dinner at a nice Italian seafood place with him and his wife. The observatory in question is in California, and we talked about life out there and how the leader of this observatory likes to run things, et cetera, et cetera. I do like the wooing phase, though. It’s nice to have someone really want you to come be part of their organization. In the middle of dinner, it started to rain and we had to move inside. And thus started our daily rains in Mexico.

We got back to the hotel for the guys to go to more conference talks, and the wife and I went to the hotel’s restaurant for dessert and coffee. It was nice and relaxing to hang out by the ocean at night with a few boat lights shining back at you. The dessert tray came out, and the waiter told us what everything on the tray was in English, except there was one dessert we couldn’t identify by sight or by his explanation. He said it was “coca pie”, but it was definitely not chocolate-looking. We asked him to write it down on the napkin, and he knew only the Spanish word, which we thought might help us in our identification, but the word was “elote”, which we couldn’t figure out either. So, I ordered it. It turned out to be a coconut pie, and it was very good. And I learned another Spanish word along the way.

After the conference ended for the night around 9pm, there were drinks, and we stayed for the prerequisite socializing with various folks. It was contrived, but we made nice. Afterwards we went back to the room.

And that was Thursday, and I slept well. My husband was supposed to finish putting together his application to an observatory in Chile, so he was already expecting to be up most of the night.

Vacation: Traveling on Wednesday

Wednesday morning we woke up at the butt-crack of dawn, and my husband started to panic. He'd apparently nodded off to sleep with quite a bit left to do. This is not uncommon, as he is one of the biggest procrastinators I've ever met, so I'd set the alarm accordingly. He dashed around, and then we went down to campus for him to get a few more pictures and data to take with him on our trip. He'd apparently also volunteered us to pick someone else up and take him to the airport, since he was on the same flight we were. There's nothing like a few added errands to have to run in the morning before leaving to add to the stress level. And that, my friends, is par for the course, and the reason I set the alarm clock for 4:30am for an 8:40 flight.

Regardless, the driver's license-voter's registration card thing worked great, so we got in and through security without a problem. Since we had lots of miles lying around, my husband had upgraded us to first class for the trip, so it was very nice. It's especially great to have red wine on your international flight with your microwaved cheese pizza. But whatever. It made for a comfortable trip, and we weren't all that tired when we arrived in Cozumel.

In the airport, there were tons of people trying to sell us stuff like tours and tickets to events and rent us cars and it was kind of crazy. We got sucked into listening to one guy's spiel for twenty minutes, but we didn't buy anything from him. We just took the map that he had just marked up. We took the shuttle to the hotel, and found ourselves a decent way out of town. The hotel selection was made because he had a conference there for a few days. As we waited to check in, we were given frozen blue drinks, and I became immediately convinced that we were staying in one of those excessively touristy places. This is unfortunate, because it's so hard to actually experience the culture you've visited this way. It just ends up being like all the pictures you see in travel brochures of excessively suntanned men and women lounging in chairs by the pool, drinking things with umbrellas in them. No one really lives like that, and that’s what we enjoy when we travel – seeing how the typical people in the area live.

But, I can make the best of any situation, so once we were settled into our room, I put on my swimsuit, grabbed my goggles and a book, and went down to the hotel’s beach. I swam around, following the various fishes I saw for thirty minutes or so, and then reclined to a lounge chair on the beach, reading my book. It was tough, but someone had to do it.

My husband had met up with a couple of the guys from the conference, and we all went into Cozumel, and filled out forms at the dive shop we’d be using for the next few days. Once they decided we were suitably waivered, we ate dinner there in town. I do love Mexican food, and my mole was nice and spicy.

And that was Wednesday, and we slept well.

We Went on Vacation!

Sorry to have been inexplicably MIA for a while. We went on our first vacation in quite a while, and we've just gotten back. I'm going to break down the days and try to give you an idea of what I've been up to for the last week. This will likely be a little diary-esque, and probably too detailed, but I wanted to write down what we did so I can reread it later in life.

Starting last Tuesday, the hunt for the passport got really heated. I'd been looking for mine since the weekend, but had had no luck. My husband's, of course, was exactly where he'd put it last, but not mine. I went to our storage unit to look there (aren't we sad folks to have a storage unit?), but to no avail. After going through everything in the house that we could think of, hubby mentioned that he might have taken it to the safe deposit box at the bank. Eek! So I left work early to go home and find the key to the box, and then went straight to the bank to find that the vault's time lock went into effect thirty minutes before. So, I was not able to look there. Eventually, I gave up looking, and since our flight was to leave before the bank reopened in the morning, I called the airline to find out what options I might have.

Of course, when traveling to Mexico, one could use one's driver's license and birth certificate. However, we know that my birth certificate was in the safe deposit box, since it's from Hong Kong, written in pencil, and would be difficult (likely impossible) to replace if lost. Since that was also inaccessible for the moment, I tried to find out if there was any other form of ID that I could use to fly to Mexico, and, more importantly, to get back into the US when we were ready to come home. This is surprisingly difficult when your husband has made all the plans, and purposely avoided giving you any of the flight/hotel/rental car/etc. plans. The conversation went something like this:
Me: I'm on a flight tomorrow morning to Cozumel, Mexico, and I can't find my passport.
Airline: Do you have your confirmation number?
Me: No, I don't.
Airline: Do you know your flight number?
Me: No, I don't.
Airline (exasperated, already): Do you know what time you're leaving?
Me: I think my husband said 8:40.
Airline: Oh good -- there is a flight at 8:40. Now, let me give you some numbers, and please write them down....

Anyway, did you know that a voter's registration card will work in place of a birth certificate? Well, it will, and I actually could find that little document, so we were back in business! For those of you who might be planning a trip to Mexico in the future, be warned that this little ID trick will only work through the end of this year. Starting in 2007, the US will require a passport to get back into the country from Mexico and Canada.

The rest of the night was packing, since we always seem to wait until the last minute to pack. We did get done early enough to get a few hours sleep before the day of traveling.