Jamaica Trip: The Flights

It may have been a previously little known fact, but I am terrified of flying. The last time I was on a plane was when I was three and I thought it was a ride. Because you usually have no concept of the world when you're little. I thought maybe Disney World was at the airport and we just flew around for a little bit and landed, then went into the park. I remember about 5 seconds of this flight, leaning over my brother Scott and looking down out the window.

When I knew I was flying to Jamaica, I was nervous for a little while. About two weeks before, I talked to my Mom who works for our doctor, about possibly getting something to settle my nerves for the flight. We made an appointment and the doctor gave me some Xanax (can't wait to see what kind of traffic I get with that name on here). I told him I needed just 4, with his description of "take 1-2 every four hours". He gave me 10. I left for the airport from my parents' house (my Dad drove), at about 4 in the morning and got there at about 4:30.

There was a short line, and Mike and Amanda, Amanda, Becky, and parents and other family were in line ahead of some other people. I said hi and went to the back. I showed my passport and driver's license and got my ticket and headed to security.

This is where I totally screwed up! I had worn shorts with zippers in them, I had my phone and ipod in my pockets, my wallet has metal on it, I have a chain on my neck. Short version, I had to get swept with the wand and padded down while Mike waited for me, laughing at me. Secondly, they took my iPod and phone and put them in what I can only describe as a dog water bowl. After I was done getting swept, I asked the guy where my iPod and phone were, and he said "go check with your friend, he may have picked it up". Nope, I told him. I was like WTF. When I asked Mike about it he was like WTF. But he had it up at the desk. Thank God! I couldn't deal without music and just Xanax. They did spot one threat on me and he had to deal with it. At the last minute of packing, I was frantically going around throwing stuff in my carry-on that I might need, including a big squeeze bottle of sun tan lotion. I read the warnings that the travel agent sent, including "no liquids over 3oz" but totally forgot. He said "you're not allowed to have this", I said "take it". Get me the f#@$ out of here!

Waiting at the gate was fun. I had popped a Xanax about 30 minutes before, waiting til I got on the plane to take my second one. It's like a drunk feeling. At this point I had put the pills in my carry-on... whoops. This turned out fine though. As the plane boarded, I was just trying to do what the people in front of me were doing since it was my first time. I didn't want to hold anyone up as I got to my seat, so I just threw my bag, and the pills, in the overhead, and sat down to get out of the way as quickly as possible. I was on the window seat, which was great for my claustrophobia! It's mild. I sat and waited for takeoff.

Taking off went without a hitch. As the plane was getting ready to leave, I put my headphones and some Bob Marley on, the stewardess came by and said no. Damn. Takeoff with no tunes. Brutal. So I just got my camera ready and snapped some shots and a video of takeoff. At about 7:40 in the morning, this was an awesome sight! The only thing that really worried me was we were heading up and suddenly went DOWN a few feet. My throat quickly made some room for my heart and stomach and anything else that wanted to go up there. I was a little nervous. Hurry up and hit 37,000 feet!

I managed to fall asleep for a little while after we passed Virginia. The whole flight was estimated to take 3 hours and 5 minutes. This was after about 45 minutes or so. I forget at this point, plus I was on Xanax :) We hit some very gentle turbulence, where the seatbelt signs would turn on. It really didn't bother me. I fell asleep kinda looking out the window at the land. When I woke up probably 2 hours later, we were over WATER! I was like WHERE THE F#@% AM I?!?! I got nervous for a little while, and the Xanax had worn off. The captain came on shortly after and said we had just passed over Cuba, and the next land we'll see is Jamaica! Sweet!

Landing was freaking awesome. We were flying South, obviously, and the airport at Montego Bay faces west to east. We took this huge turn left and that is just about the freakiest thing ever. It just kept turning. Please stop turning or we'll be upside down soon. It finally flattened out and we went down for a very smooth landing, which I also video taped. Very smooth and the captain certainly knows what he is doing.

The way back to Philadelphia was a blur. Our flight had been delayed 2.5 hours. During this time, I popped a Xanax, spent $15 at the bar, popped another one, ended up sitting next to a very nice Jamaican girl going to Philly, I fell asleep leaning against the seat in front of me listening to classical music, woke up with my legs very tense and not feeling good at all. I woke up because the girl in front of me moved her seat up... WTF I'm sleeping here! Since my legs were so tense, I bit half a pill and tried to relax. The 2.5 pills did the trick. Along with the drinks. I got to my parents house and fell asleep in a few minutes. Next up, Jamaica Mon!

Jamaica Trip: The food

At Sandals Grande Ocho Rios, you are treated to a number of different restaurants with different specialties. They are open at slightly different times for all those important meals of the day. The food, with a few notable exceptions from people who didn't like their FREE desserts, was exceptional. (Technically it's not free, but you know what I mean).

My roommate and I were early risers, waking up most days by 7. I woke up for an hour usually at around 4am every day. I would wake up, look at the clock, and it was 4am. It was odd, but really the only time I could connect to the internet with no problems. Breakfast wouldn't start until 7:30, so of course by this point we're starving, because to get a timely dinner in on the previous night, you'd have get there 15 minutes before the restaurant you wanted to go to opened. Breakfast at 7:30 was less of an issue. We'd get there and there'd be maybe 10-20 people total, and it's a buffet, so you just grab a plate and in about 5 minutes you have a delicious meal, coffee, and water sitting in front of you.

The buffet breakfast was pretty amazing. While Ryan, my roommate, would get lots of fruit and two omelettes, I would just get everything that interested me. Chicken for breakfast? Why not. They always had bacon, sausage, some form of potato (hash browns, home fries, etc), and two domes at the buffet would be different every day. I always got pineapple and another fruit. The water there was delicious and ice cold. And the first day I asked the waiter if the coffee they were serving us was "Blue Mountain" and he said "Yeah Mon!" I think they just cater to your wishes and tell you what you want to hear. It was delicious though. We'd then go back to the room for an hour or so then meet up with everyone at the pool or beach for another hour or two. Then came lunch.

Lunch was pretty good most times. We would still mostly go to the buffet since it was quick and pretty good. I forget if we tried a non-buffet lunch. I'm sure we did, but I forget at this point. Lunch is when the buffet had a ton of different salads, like tuna salad, chicken Caesar, different pasta salads. One day they had Jerk Chicken which is a specialty dish of Jamaica. I was talking to Casper, the wedding photographer, and I just said "This jerk chicken and pork that they have in the resort is bullshit, huh?" He was like "Yah Mon". You could pick up real jerk at the various jerk centres and stores that they have along the highway between the airport and the resort. I didn't try any real jerk. That's a shame. After lunch we'd go to the pool again and start drinking usually. The pool is where it's at.

Thankfully for the casual dress code at the resort, you would just have to pack a pair of shorts if you didn't want to go back to your room to change for dinner. And it was amazing. Amazingly slow. If you went to a sit down and served dinner there, you could expect to just sit there for two hours and talk to everyone. Courses would come out every 30 minutes or so, and you'd eat it in about 2 minutes. This is what the appetizers looked like. Although delicious, you can tell they're very very small. Which is fine, because 3 - 4 small courses add up to a decent meal. The place that picture was taken was called the Reef Terrace or Terrace Reef. Something like that. I got Jerk Beef. It was delicious and the plate was square. They are all artistic about their meals, something you would see in places where a single meal is like $30 and up. And you're sitting there in your shorts, sandals and a t-shirt most times. It's really relaxing.

One time, we ate so early and were drinking so much that we were starved. We swam in the pool and hot tub all night, and at 9:30 or so, a stand near the pool opened up. It had nachos, pizza, and other delicious hand foods. I got nachos with sour cream, guacamole, jalapeno peppers, and salsa. Two plates. I was hungry.

The one place we ate it was required to dress up. And by dress up, I mean no shorts. Of course, I didn't pack anything in terms of nice clothes except my one red golf shirt, so I would have been SOL if it weren't for the tuxedo rentals! I used the white pants, my red golf shirt, and my sneakers, and passed the excruciating judgment that was placed on me as I walked in the place. It was a 100% improvisation and it worked pretty damn well. When Zatko gets back, he'll put up some decent pictures of it. He had also not packed any pants and was forced down the same road I was. Apparently Amanda had him pack half a suitcase of towels and towels were provided at every pool and in your shower, it turned out. That was one thing that I forgot and it turned out OK.

That about does it for the food. Obviously, there's not a lot of adjectives to use when describing food. I forget what I ate specifically but can tell you I was never disappointed. It was good. That's about all I can say, you have to go there yourselves :)

And so my photography hobby begins...

While in Jamaica, I noticed how much fun Mike and Jared were having with their DSLR cameras, and I wanted to get in on the action. I will be keeping a log here for just that purpose, and uploading the photos I take to Flickr and displaying them here with the details of the photo. I've been reading up on some things, but also bought a book to help me out. I got a Nikon D40 with the default load-out, an 8GB memory card, a bag for it, and the book which is on exposure. I'll probably read around the web as well and maybe try out some trial versions of professional photo software like Aperture from Apple or Lightroom from Adobe. Jared uses Lightroom, Mike uses iPhoto which is a basic photo application. Aperture is cheaper than Lightroom but only available on a Mac which is perfect since I use one :) But I'll try them out. It should be fun. I've been into photography for a while but never really fed my interests.

I did have a camera in 4th or 5th grade, though. A really old one. I went to Notre Dame and took a photo of the gold dome they have and it turned out really good, like a post card. They also had these giant sand dunes that I took a few pictures of. We had the big red van back then. That was fun.

So I'm giving it another whirl. We'll see how it turns out. Hopefully better than my drawing experiment a year or so ago :)

Back from Jamaica!

I'll be making a series of posts, but the first one is about scuba diving. Enjoy!

I was a bit nervous about it. Heading to the pool for the training, I was like I'm gonna drown. But they make you swim 8 laps around the pool without touching the side or bottom, and that pretty much got rid of the nervous feeling and made me exhausted instead :) Then you watch a video that teaches you some of the things that you will need to do. After that they suit you up, put you in the pool, then you try breathing underwater. That was crazy!

Of course, there are about 10 tricks that you need to know to stay alive while 40 feet below. The guy, Pablo, a Jamaican, taught you three of the ones that we'll need for a short, 30 minute excursion underwater. They were how to clear your mask if it gets filled with water, how to put your mouth piece back in if it gets knocked out or you lose it, and the last was how to equalize your pressure in your ears so you can go down 40 feet and feel perfectly comfortable. Then in the pool, they teach you this and Pablo watches each person as they do it at least twice perfectly. After that, Pablo made us swim from the shallow end to the deep end in a circle as long as we wanted, and practice equalizing our pressure. I swam in the pool for about 10-15 minutes, practicing these different techniques.

When we went on the dive, I was nervous again. They put an anchor in the water, you grab onto the rope and head down slowly, equalizing as you go, every 3-4 feet or so. It was very slow. You get down there, then go into what's called a "scuba chain", locking arms with everyone. This was uncomfortable since you're just kneeing there waiting for everyone, and when you're not moving, the bubbles you blow out just go in your face and you can't see anything. Then we went off to the reefs. So many colorful fishes and the water was beautiful. The one guy was taking pictures, and we managed to get one with the three of us that went down there. Overall it was an incredible time and I can't wait to do it again :D

I'll be posting that picture as soon as I get it from Zatko. In the meantime, check out the images as they get uploaded from the people that went. We have a Flikr group called "Zatko Wedding".

The Wedding Party