Today we were at sea. I woke up really late today: 10:00 late. After breakfast, I went played some soccer on the sports court for about two hours. Then I ate lunch and went for a really quick swim (I didn’t stay long since there were about 50 people around the pool drinking so it wasn’t much fun). I then grabbed my iPad and caught up on my blog writing. After that I went down to trivia. I contributed a few answers so I felt smart. I showered and then we ate dinner. After that we went to a comedy improv show and then to the normal show.
Today we were in Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands. English is the first language in the Cayman Islands, but many people speak Spanish as well since they are in contact with Hispanic cultures on a regular basis. We arrived fairly late in the morning (11:00) and our tour didn’t start until 14:00 (2:00 PM). It was a tender port though, so we had to wait for our tender to get off the boat. We walked around the town for about an hour and then went to the tour company office.
From the tour company office, we rode a bus to the boat dock, and on the way our driver told us some things about the Cayman Island. For one, the island is tax free but a lot of rich people live there (huh, funny, when you don’t have any taxes, money comes to you. What a surprise. JK, not actually a surprise, more like common sense.). Our driver made it very clear that the Cayman Islands are tax free (say it really slowly and emphatically in a deep Caribbean accent).
We got to the boat and boarded and then then rode out to Stingray Sandbar.
Out at the sandbar, we were able to hold and “kiss” the stingrays.
It took a while for all of the people to have an opportunity to be able to hold the stingrays, but it was kinda cool.
After seeing the stingrays, we rode over to another spot where we got out to snorkel. I decided to wear my contacts today since the masks keep the water out of my eyes pretty well when I snorkeled last time. I was extremely happy about that decision. The coral was amazing and there was a great variety of fish.
We went to one other site where there was a huge variety of fish, but not as much coral. The guides had fish-food, which they threw out, which attracted a ton of fish.
That was about it, we rode back to the shore and then drove back to town and walked to the boat. I really enjoyed the snorkeling trip, I love being in the water where there are so many cool things to see.
Today we were in Cozumel, Mexico. We had to take a ferry to the mainland where we were to meet our driver and go to some Mayan ruins. The ferry left promptly at about 8:00 Mexico Time (meaning it left at about 8:15). When we arrived on the mainland after about a 45 minute ride, we found our driver and she drove us to Tulum.
When we arrived at the ruins, we paid for a guide to take us around the ruins. His name is Don Miguel and he made sure that we knew that was his name. He led us to the wall of the walled-off inner city where the nobles (who as I mentioned in the blog post about Costa Maya, were considered half god, half person) lived. Mere mortals (commoners) lived outside the walls in wooden houses. We went through one of the gates into the complex and walked around the ruins as our guide described the various strictures.
Tulum was a trading post and as well as an astronomical observatory. Of course, the Maya also worshiped and performed ceremonies in the temples. Here are some pictures with captions describing what each one is showing.
On our way back to the ferry, our driver stopped at a cenota, a sinkhole where water comes up from the ground in a spring. I was the only one brave enough to jump in. It was not freezing like some springs that I’ve been to, but it was cool and refreshing. We couldn’t stay long since we had to be at the ferry boat in time to get across to Cozumel and get back on the boat, but it was a nice refreshment after a hot day walking around Tulum.
Once we got to the boat, things proceeded as previously.
Today we were in Roatan, Honduras – an island about 58 kilometers (36 miles) off the cost of mainland Honduras. We had arranged for a driver to take us to a few activities on the island. As we drove around, our driver pointed out a variety of things on the island. Most of the things were “there’s the house of the mayor/governor/rich lady/sister/cousin/etc.”.
Our first stop was a sort of petting zoo. It was just a small family owned place and we were led around the place by Isaac, the cousin of one the owners. (Actually, it’s very difficult to tell if they mean literal cousin or figurative cousin, basically it seems like if they are your friend, they are your cousin. I’m pretty sure they would call their cousin their brother. It’s a very different culture, families are much closer and the line between family and friends is much more nebulous.)
He showed us a couple animals that lived in the island and then took us to the monkey cage. The monkeys were yelling (more like screeching) at one another so they let one of them out onto the trees surrounding the enclosure. The monkey stayed close (they knows where their food comes from). Then we were allowed to go inside. The monkeys jumped all over us checking us out. They were very startling since they mainly jumped from behind me onto my head. They really liked my head for some reason. I wasn’t so excited about the fact that they liked pulling. my hair. They don’t have claws, so they couldn’t dig in, they were just grabbing at my hair and pulling it. It was a definitely unique experience though.
Next we went by the cage of some spider monkeys. Isaac warned us not to stand too close but dad got a bit too close to the enclosure and the monkey reached out and swatted dad’s glasses with his hand! Isaac said that if they get a good grip on the glasses, they will put them on their head since they’ve seen humans do it!
We then went to the toucan enclosure and got to hold and feed some toucans. They had claws and it did kinda hurt some. We went to another enclosure where they had a different bird (I don’t remember what it was called) and held and fed it too.
The last animal that we held was a sloth. Hannah was really excited about getting to hold a sloth. They moved so slowly! (There were some jokes comparing me to the sloth, let’s just say I was not amused.)
House of BLAH
On our way to the next stop, we stopped at the home of BLAH, the owner of the company. He and his brother run a soccer program for boys. There is a bit problem with juvenile delinquency in Honduras since school is not mandatory for any age. The soccer program helps encourage kids to go to school since to play, they have to attend school. Because the community is so small (the island is the size of a small town), the teachers let the coaches know if the kids miss school and they got punished by the coaches if they do (mostly by denying them playing time). The team is pretty competitive on Roatan, but not so much on the mainland.
We then went to a place where there were some horses. We rode them a little way through the jungle and then down to the beach and into the water. It was really fun riding them in the water.
One of the things that we wanted to do was snorkel at a reef. Our guide was quite the wheeler and dealer (more on that later) and said, “oh yes, we can do that. You will rent boat and go snorkeling at good reef. I will get you very reasonable price”. We were rather skeptical since all we really wanted was some snorkel gear and a place to snorkel. (We knew that the price for going to the beach and renting would be $20 USD per person, so it had to be a pretty good deal.) When we arrived at the pier, he was very happy and was like “ah, you are in luck, my friend just got back from a trip, I will get a good price for you” After a couple seconds, he came back to us and was like, “I have good news for you, you can get blah-blah-blah-blah and normally this costs $35 but for you he will do it for only $25”. We became un-skeptical very quickly and went on the boat.
The boat took us out a few minutes to the Second Great Barrier Reef. Out at the snorkeling site, we were able to see tons of coral (much more than when I was with mom in Bermuda) and lots of fish. I asked dad how it compared to the Great Barrier reef. He said that there was a good variety of fish, but the coral was not doing so good. I thought it was pretty cool and I had a lot of fun.
After we were finished snorkeling, our driver took us back to our cruise ship.
A Note On Our Driver
As I mentioned, our guide was quite the wheeler-dealer. If we had had time, we wanted to go see an orphanage and hand out toys to the kids, but we didn’t have time so we weren’t able to do that. After the fact, we decided it was probably better that we hadn’t since our driver probably would have tried to sell us the orphanage! (Not really, but if he had we would not have been totally stunned.
He has a family of “only” eight kids, and has a myriad of jobs to support them. His dream is to find treasure at one of the pirate wrecks off the coast. Of course it probably will never happen, but I think that the dream of striking it rich is often a motivation to keep going.
I’m still in “blog writing catch up” mode, so I will stop writing here.
Today we were in Harvest Caye, Belize – a private island owned by Norwegian Cruise Line. The island has been opened to cruise ships for only 11 days, so we were some of the first people to be on the island.
The first thing we did was go paddle boarding. It was pretty fun. I got to the point where I was able to just paddle on one side most of the time, you have to kinda paddle in a circular motion through the water and it works. Then we went into the ocean for a swim and then to the pool to swim. We ate lunch, and after that, Hannah and I went parasailing.
Parasailing is pretty cool. You go out on a boat and they deploy this parachute. You strap onto the parachute, and then they let out the rope holding the parachute and you go up into the air. It was really cool because we were able to see all of the island, the cruise ship, some of the mainland and a variety of other islands while we were up there. I didn’t have a camera so I don’t have any pictures from up high, but some people that were also on the same tour as us took pictures of us as we took off and sent them to us. (We returned the favor of course.)
After parasailing, I swam in the pool for a few minutes and then headed back to the ship. I won’t bore you with the details on the rest of the evening, and I’m really far behind on writing anyway, so bye!
Today we were in Costa Maya, Mexico. (Yay! Another country on my list of “been there’s”.) Costa Maya itself is not a very big town and the only industry is tourism. It consists of a cruise pier, a multitude of shops where locals set up to sell to the tourists from the cruise ships, and a few houses. The Mexican government is (trying) to develop the area into a large tourism city to compete with the Caribbean ports, but it definitely isn’t there yet.
Native Choice, the company we did our tour with, was located a few blocks away (most of the blocks are actually just open lots overgrown with vegetation where the government wants to develop). The tour we did went to some Mayan ruins and then to a modern Mayan family’s home.
I’ll start with some background information about the Mayans that I learned today.
The Mayans are believed to have come over the Bearing Straight at the very end of the Ice Age. The Maya are related to the Eskimos in Alaska as well as the Mongols in Asia. We know this because the Maya, as well as the Mongols, share a birthmark called the “Mongolian Spot”. (I would assume that there has been gene analysis to confirm this as well.)
Evidence of the Mayan peoples’ existence begins in 1200 BC. The Mayan Culture peaked between 200 AD and 900 AD and the Maya still exist today; they have not disappeared as is a common misconception. The Maya live primarily in the Yucatán Peninsula. The Yucatán is primarily composed of limestone, so there are no rivers in the area, all of the water percolates through the ground to form underground rivers and caves. When the Spanish came to and colonized the Americas, they basically skipped all of the Yucatán Peninsula. Since there are no rivers in the area, the Spanish assumed that there was no source of fresh water in the Yucatán Peninsula. The Maya, however, had other sources of fresh water: underground rivers which are exposed in places where the cave ceilings have fallen in. Because the Spanish skipped them, the Maya were conquered after the Aztecs and Incas.
The Maya were organized in city-states, much like the Ancient Greeks and Europe during the Medieval. Wars were primarily fought over resources and trading routes and marriage to form political alliances was common. Our guide quipped “they had the same solutions to the same problems as [Europeans of the same period] did”.
The Mayan religion was a polytheistic religion where, much like the Ancient Greeks, everything had a god. There was a sun god, a god of harvest and childbearing, a god of commerce and war, etc.
Mayan Creation Account
The Mayan religion’s creation account has many parallels with the Judaeo-Christian creation account. As I describe the Mayan creation account, I will point out some of the similarities that I see and that our guide pointed out in italics.
The Maya believed that the Earth was created by the gods in 3700-ish BC. For Young Earth Creationists like myself, this points to a general knowledge among the ancient people that 1) a higher power created us and 2) it was fairly recent as compared to the evolutionist’s creation account. In the first creation, the gods created people from clay. This is similar to the Judaeo-Christian account in Genesis 2:7 where God created man from the dust of the ground. The people made from clay did something bad (I don’t remember exactly what) and were destroyed in a flood. This seems like a mix between the expulsion from the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3) and the worldwide flood of Noah (Genesis 6:9-8:22). The gods then tried again and made the people from something else (I don’t remember what, exactly). These people did something else bad and were destroyed by fire. There are similarities to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19:23-29. There were another creation which was also destroyed, but on the fourth creation, the gods got it right and made the people from corn (maize). To the Mayans, corn is the most important crop.
Mayan Perception of Heaven and Hell
The Maya believed that four minor gods held the heavens above the earth and that above that was a type of “heaven” (they didn’t call it that, but that’s essentially what it was) and below the earth was a sort of “hell”/underworld (I don’t remember what, exactly, they called it). The Mayan people believed that their temples (I’ll talk more about them later) were portals to communicating with the gods in heaven.
Mayan Social Structure
The Maya had a caste system similar to the Indians. Like the Indian caste system, you could not move up the ladder, you were born into one caste and stayed there. The noble caste was seen as demigods by the common caste and the commoners saw it as their duty to serve the nobles. The noble caste survived by taxation and trade. The nobles also were the religious leaders in the Mayan culture. Only the nobles were allowed to go up to the top of the temples.
As described earlier, the Maya had a concept of Heaven so they built elevated areas to build their temples on. At Chacchoben, the site we went to, the elevated area was about 110 metres (360 ft) square and looked to be about 10 metres (32 ft) high. On top of the elevated areas, the Maya build their temples. The temples were pyramid structures, but unlike the Egyptian ones the Mayan temples were not pointed at the top, they were “cut off”. On the cut off portion, the Maya built a small room where they did ceremonies and sacrifices.
Each temple was dedicated to a single god. For example, there was a temple to the sun god and the harvest god. If something really bad happened in the realm of one god, they moved the ceremonies to the main temple which was also the largest temple and had huge ceremonies. For the most part, the main temple was where the human sacrifices occurred, so if the celebrations moved to that temple, it was almost guaranteed that there would be some human sacrifices.
How we Know This Stuff
The Mayan people kept very detailed chronicles of their history on paper. These histories described the Mayan way of life and chronicled the scientific discoveries that they made. When the Spanish came, however, the Spanish Inquisition was in full force. Anything not specifically endorsed by the Catholic Church was “against God” so they burned all of the Mayan history. Imagine the knowledge that was contained in those pages. (Rabbit trail warning: the same can be said of the books held in the library at Alexandria.)
This is one reason that the Mayan history is not as well known as the histories of many western civilizations which carved their histories in stone and the paper writings that they made were better preserved (thanks in part to the work of the Ancient Islamic Empire).
Four books survived the Inquisition and the elements and a number of stone tablets also were preserved. From these along with archaeological findings, archaeologists and historians have reconstructed a sliver of what the Mayan way of life was like.
Rabbit trail warning: I think it’s scary to think of what people in 1000 years will think of this civilization. Will they think that we peaked in the 1990s and then started going downhill since there started to be less paper records (which would imply less economic activity)? Will they think that CDs were used as instruments or jewelry? Our houses are made of wood, what will they be able to figure out from the cement foundations and asphalt roads? They won’t be able to see our pictures, since by then JPEG will be a thing of the past. They won’t be able to view our documents since PDFs will long since have been forgotten. This is assuming that they even have the ability to read the storage mediums that we use. Imagine trying to figure out SATA or USB 3 in 1000 years without even knowing what it should do. I think it’s very interesting. Should we think about this stuff? I don’t know, maybe we should be leaving better records of our way of life, but on the other hand, maybe we want to give future archaeologists and historians something to do. Or maybe the world is going to end tomorrow and all this philosophy doesn’t matter anyway.
Mayan House & Lunch
After walking around the temples with the guide telling us all the things I’ve mentioned and a lot more that I’ve forgotten, we went back to the vans and drove to a modern day Mayan village where we visited a Mayan family.
When we arrived, we met five Mayan women who had prepared lunch for us. Before we ate, however, the women helped us make tortillas. We had to (try to) shape the dough that they gave us and then we gave it to another woman who cooked the tortillas on a pan over an elevated open fire. The lady helping us with the dough had to fix my attempt quite a bit.
For the meal we were served empanadas, rice, chicken, beans and a few other items. It was a very good meal.
Happy New Years’ Eve! Today was a day at sea. I did a bunch of things today including: playing chess, playing soccer, eating, reading The Art of Computer Programming, Vol. 1, Fundamental Algorithms, Third Edition by Donald E. Knuth, eating, watching the Chelsea-Swansea City game, and watching karaoke.
I could describe the day in detail, but that would be boring, so I won’t. Tomorrow we are in Costa Maya, so that should be more interesting.
Today was our last day in New Orleans. This morning we rode the St. Charles Streetcar through the Garden District and this afternoon we boarded our cruise ship: the Norwegian Dawn.
The New Orleans streetcar system is the oldest streetcar system in the world (or maybe just in the United States? I’m not sure). The St. Charles streetcar is the most famous route of the New Orleans streetcar system and that is the one we rode. We got on near Canal Street and went all the way on through the Garden District and a way into the neighborhoods west of the Garden District. The Garden District had some very nice houses. They were old Southern-style mansions with large porches with ornate columns. The windows on the cars were pretty dirty so I didn’t take any pictures, but I’m sure you can find some on the web.
Boarding the Ship
We got back to the hotel and checked out, then we walked down to the cruise terminal. We had to stand in quite a few queues for security checks, and check in, but it didn’t take too long. After dropping our carry-ons off at our rooms, we went to eat and explore the boat.
The boat is way more confusing to navigate than the other cruise boats I’ve been on. For one, there are like 10 different dining options (I’m not complaining, but it does complicate the process of getting food). Anyway, I found the sports deck and played some soccer with some kids. (I’m really out of shape right now, not a good sign because I have to go back home and start playing soccer again.)
That was about all that happened today. Tomorrow is a day at sea, hopefully I find some fun stuff to do.
Today we spent the entire day at the National World War II Museum.
There were three main exhibits: an exhibit about the European Theatre of the war and an exhibition about the Pacific Theatre of the war and an exhibit with some WWII planes. Overall, it was a good comprehensive overview of the war. My writing skills can do it no justice so I won’t try. I also didn’t take many pictures, so there won’t be much to this post besides a recommendation to go to this museum.
Tomorrow we are boarding the boat for our Caribbean Cruise. There is limited Wi-Fi on the boat so I will have to wait to post until I’m in port (which will be most days).
Today we went on a Segway tour of the city and then went straight to a river boat tour which went down the Mississippi River to the site of Andrew Jacksons stand in the Battle of New Orleans.
After breakfast, we walked to Decatur street where the Segway tour company is located. We practiced riding the Segways in the company’s “office” and then headed out onto the streets.
We toured all around the French Quarter and into two of the surrounding neighborhoods. The guide explained some of New Orleans’ history and pointed out some of the interesting sights along the way. One of the most interesting thing was that New Orleanians don’t call medians “medians”, they call them “neutral grounds”. This is because each of the neighborhoods used to be separately governed. The streets, however, were neutral and thus all commerce was done in the middle of the street out of reach of either jurisdiction. So to this day, medians in New Orleans are called “neutral grounds”.
History of New Orleans
The Mississippi River and all of its watershed were claimed for France by in 1699. New Orleans was founded by the French in 1718. The French controlled New Orleans for about 50 years. The French built New Orleans in the area that is now known as the French Quarter, but only three buildings in that neighborhood are actually French. The others were burned in the fires during the Spanish rule.
New Orleans came under Spanish rule after the Seven Years War. Known in the American Theatre as The French and Indian War, the Seven Years War was the first worldwide war. The end result that we care about is that France ceded all of Louisiana to Spain in the treaty ending the war. New Orleans was not notified of the change in rule for two years. During Spanish rule, the city burned to the ground twice. The first time because someone didn’t extinguish his altar candles while he went to lunch. After that fire, the city was rebuilt in the Spanish style and as they were rebuilding, a second fire broke out, this time due to two boys playing with matches in a hay shed. After this second devastating fire, the Spanish rebuilt again, this time implementing fire codes preventing houses from being made of wood and requiring courtyards with wells to be able to fight fires.
In 1800, Napoleon corrected the Spanish to give Louisiana back to the French. Three years later, in 1803, Thomas Jefferson bought Louisiana in the biggest land deal in the history of the world. Jefferson only wanted to buy New Orleans for 10 million dollars. Napoleon was in need of money to conquer Europe, so he offered to sell all of Louisiana for 15 million dollars. Thomas Jefferson agreed and so the biggest land deal in history was made. The land acquired ended up costing 4¢/acre. Where did the extra 5 million dollars come from? Britain loaned it to us. What did Napoleon do with the money? He attacked Britain.
New Orleans has always been a strategic strongpoint on the Mississippi since whoever controls that city controls all commerce along the Mississippi. The British knew this, and during the War of 1812, the British attacked New Orleans. Until this point in the war, American forces had invaded French Canada conquering Montreal but then being defeated on the Plains of Abraham outside of Quebec (see my post from this summer when my mom and I were there). Over in Europe, Napoleon was defeated (remember, Napoleon was fighting the British with American money borrowed from the British) and the entire might of the British Empire came to bear on the small United States of America. Washington DC was sacked, the Capital and White House was burned, and George Washington’s portrait was saved by the First Lady. The British advances in the north were halted at Ft. McHenry where the famous words of the national anthem were penned by Francis Scott Key.
The British then moved south and invaded New Orleans. After gaining control of Lake Borgne, the British landed and camped at a plantation south of New Orleans in late December. Upon hearing this, Andrew Jackson, the general in charge of protecting the city of New Orleans, ordered a night attack of the British encampment. The British held their position, but preparations were delayed giving the Americans time to fortify a canal on the Chalmette Plantation. The spot was specifically chosen because it was the narrowest point between the British and New Orleans. On January 8th, the British attacked. The British had to advance across wide open fields to attack the American position. They marched in the traditional head-on attack formation but despite their ranks being torn apart by cannon, musket and rifle fire from behind the battle work, the British soldiers continued marching. Jackson later said after the battle that he respected the soldiers for their relentless marching in the face of enormous casualties. The British commander and many officers were killed, and the Americans grapeshot ripped through the British lines. Few British made it to the breastwork and those that scaled it were immediately killed or captured. After suffering huge losses, the British commander in reserve brought his troops to cover the retreat of what remained of the British army on the field. Casualties for the British totaled over 2000 (285 of which were killed). There were 62 casualties (13 killed) for the Americans. Jackson did all of this with only 4500 men while the British had nearly 14
Because of the significance of the Battle of New Orleans, January 8th was celebrated as the second Independence Day in America. During the Civil War, however, Louisiana became part of the Confederate States of America and the importance of the Battle of New Orleans was greatly marginalized during the Reconstruction period.
After the Segway tour we went on a riverboat tour where we went down the river to the Chalmette Plantation, the site of the Battle of New Orleans. As I have already described the battle, I won’t elaborate here. On the way down, we saw the Lower and Upper Ninth Ward and St. Bernard Parish where the majority of the flooding occurred during Hurricane Katrina and our guide described some of the various sights along the way.
I’ll go ahead and stop here, I am already behind on my writing.