Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The end of the world!

As you can clearly see from looking at this Mayan calendar, the world is about to end!

Or someone is going to stick his tongue out at you.
Some say that when the last entry in the Mayan Calendar comes, so will the end of the world as we know it.

The calendar system used in the ancient world reflect the agricultural, political and ritual needs characteristic of the societies in which they flourished. Astronomical observations to establish the winter and summer solstices were in use three to four millennia ago. By the 14th century BCE the Shang Chinese had established the solar year as 365.25 days and the lunar month as 29.5 days. The lunisolar calendar, in which the ritual month is based on the moon and the agricultural year on the sun, was used throughout the ancient Near East (except Egypt) and Greece from the third millennium BCE. Early calendars used either thirteen lunar months of 28 days or twelve alternating lunar months of 29 and 30 days and haphazard means to reconcile the 354/364-day lunar year with the 365-day solar year.

Where the Maya Calendar differs is the fact that they use two calendars. Put into one by placing it into a circle or calendar round. There was first the sacred year of 260 days and a vague year of 365 days. The sacred year was used for religious purposes and to name children. The vague year was used to plant crops. When placed together on the calendar round, they look like the above picture.
The calendar round is not like our yearly calendars. It is instead made up of 18,980 days or 73 sacred years  or 52 vague years. We'll discuss here, the vague years.
The 365 day year consist of 18 months of 20 days each, followed by an additional month of five days. These five days were a gift from God and to be used as what we would call a holiday.
They found that the 52 year cycle eliminated the need for leap years because the time would balance itself out. We today, use a calendar that adds a day every 4 years, but time actually has been shifting slightly each year as we do this. Their system, while it takes 52 years to complete, takes care of the discrepancy all on it's own.
Additional circles keep track of longer periods of time. On each of the calendars that have been found, they plotted out time up until what we would call December 21, 2012.

Some say that on that day, the planets will align and send the earth out of balance. This could change its spinning axis , thus changing where the North and South Poles are located.

What the Maya would say about this is unclear. The fact that their calendar comes to an end, may simply mean that it starts over again. The reality is that the Mayas did keep track of large cycles of time, and there is a cycle that began in 3013BC on our calendar. There are reasons to think that the cycle reaches a significant number on Dec.21, 2012.

Today we have the internet to perpetuate any doubts of our survival and we are influenced by the Bible and all it's doomsday theories. Weather you look at scientific evidence or biblical prophecies, one thing is clear. 
We are heading toward a new beginning. Even if it's just in our heads. Will we wake up on the 22nd of December in a new world? Or will we wake up at all?
Or will we all get hit by a bus today?
We don't know what the future holds. So we need to live as though there is no tomorrow.
Call those that you've been meaning to call. Experience what you've been wanting to do for a long time. 
Stop putting off until tomorrow what you should have done yesterday.
Live life with no regrets. What was done in the past can not be changed and the future is yours. So enjoy it.

Having written all of that, I really only wanted to show you some of the things that we purchased on our trip.
Above, obviously is a Maya Calendar. I can't read it either.

This is a small hand carved wooden jar that I fell in love with and had to have.

And here we have a hand carved mahogany mask.

Next stop, Honduras and an amazing beach resort where we spent the day.


Thursday, November 24, 2011

Looking back

It's been an amazing year and I really have a lot to be thankful for. With the passing of my mother in May, it gave us a chance to celebrate her life like never before. And we were so blessed to be able to bring our broken family back together in such a difficult time and help each other through. We've healed wounds that go back thirty years or more and are looking forward to moving forward in a positive way.

My husband and I were able to take an incredible vacation that we have been looking forward to for years. And I will continue to share more of those beautiful ports that we visited and some of the valuable life lessons that we learned during our travels.

And now, one of my sisters has purchased a new home that promises to be a gathering place for the whole family for years to come. We are looking forward to her moving in and making that house a home. Not just for herself but for all her family and friends.

And I've been graced with many new readers and friends here on the brighter side that have brought as much into my life as I hope that I have brought into yours.
I hope that your year has been as fruitful for you as my family and I have experienced. Please feel free to share with everyone what has made your year so fulfilling in the comments. I look forward to reading all your comments every day.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Second stop: Belize Part Two - Altun Ha

There were way too many pictures of these fascinating ruins that I wanted to share with you to put into one post. So the photos continue from yesterday.
For an idea of where this is, here is a link on google maps...    http://maps.google.com/maps?q=17.764693,+-88.346912&num=1&t=h&vpsrc=0&hl=en&ie=UTF8&ll=17.76458,-88.34666&spn=0.002641,0.004823&z=18&iwloc=A

Darrel, Mayan Warrior,  is standing at the base of the tallest of the ruins. There is someone else standing at the top. That's how big they are.

This alter is situated at the top of that structure.
A friend's son was in to "planking" last summer, so I just had to plank on this alter at the top of the ruins for Spencer. While I was doing this, it hit me that this was most likely some sort of sacrificial alter. But, I came out of it alive.
(Planking is when you lie on something face down with your arms and legs extended and stiffen your body. It's complete by having someone take your picture while doing it.)
This is the view from up top.
Back on the ground, I couldn't believe that I had just climbed that and planked on top!

This was our luxurious bus. The seats were hard, the air barely worked and the shocks were shot. And we've already discussed the "road". While driving back, someone in the group had the nerve to complain about the ride and I couldn't help but think that we are in a third world country, in the middle of the jungle, visiting ruins from up to 4000 years ago. And you want to complain about the ride?! I thought it added to the adventure and would have been happy with less. At least we didn't have to carry the chicken on our lap for lunch when we got there.

Speaking of lunch, I was really craving some nachos with real salsa. This was made with very little tomato and had cucumber, onion, peppers and lime juice. Yes, lime juice! It was delicious.
Ed opted for an authentic beer, made right there in Belize called Belikin Beer.
Back on board the ship, we got our second towel animal. An elephant!
Then it was off into the sunset to our next adventure.

Stay tuned....

Second stop: Belize Part One

Our first stop was a perfect way to set the stage for the rest of the shore excursions. After a crazy month of working and an insane visit to New Orleans, it was nice to relax on a warm tropical beach. A great chance to release all the tension.
 Soon we were back on board and heading to our next destination. But first, it was the Halloween Cruise so we had our selves a little costume ball. Our costumes seemed like beginner costumes next to our competitors. We don't know what happened to the photo of Ed in his but I'll let you see mine. I was an Indian Warrior. He was dressed as the kid from the movie Where The Wild Things Are. He was so cute with his crown and septer.

 A while ago, we saw the show Aluminum at my sister's theater and I had the idea of going to the costume ball as one of the characters from the show (a big dryer vent). Somehow, the idea got shot down. Wouldn't you know that the winners of the contest, that walked away with $1000 to spend on board the ship, came as big dryer vents. That prize was so mine!

 We awoke the next morning off the coast of Belize.
There were two other ships here as well. Since the port can not handle the large ships, we had to be tendered in on smaller boats.
 Here are some friends Louis, Daved and Darrel, that we met while relaxing at the beach yesterday. We are just arriving at the shore and very excited for what lies ahead.
Once on shore, we boarded a bus that had seen it's better days and headed off down a fairly rough patch of road. When we were far away from the "city", we turned on to another "road". This road was nothing more than a single path. Yet it is the main road that goes to the Altun Ha Mayan Ruins. When we passed an on coming vehicle, both would have to put the right tires in the ditch and share the road. There were some pretty tight places. We trudged along this path, passing what looked like abandoned shacks. You could tell that there were people living there by the laundry hanging to dry. We were definitely in another world. It makes you appreciate everything that you have at home. It was explained to us that these people only work when there is a harvest to bring in and they make about $12 US per day. They work hard 9 hour days, often without breaks. The people that do the best are the ones catering to the Americans that come into port every day. The question was asked at one point, "Why don't they clean up their yards, surely that doesn't cost anything?" The answer was that if they make their house look too nice, others will come and "borrow" their stuff. So they actually want their yard to be messy and the house look run down. Since it is the tropics, there is little need for insulation, air conditioning, windows and in some cases, even doors seemed optional.

Belize is the former British Honduras. It's a fairly new country at the far Northern portion of Central America. Bordered by Mexico on the North and Guatemala on the South and West with a lovely Caribbean coast line. The population of just more than 300,000 mainly speaks Spanish, but because of being under British rule for so long, the official language is English. It is the only English speaking country in Central America. With less than 9,000 square miles of land, it is a very small country. Their primitive roads have speed limit signs posted but they have no police force to enforce the limits or issue tickets. There are no signal lights in the entire country. Driving there is at your own risk.

The Altun Ha Mayan Ruins were only discovered in 1985 and have brought a whole new industry to the country; tourism. The area was completely covered in jungle and there is far more still to be uncovered.
The ruins date back before Christ and they don't know what each structure might have been used for.
They do know that much of the surrounding land was farmed. They had an amazing system of water retention and distribution.

From the inhabitable structures that they have found, they discovered the use of air vents, used like a natural air conditioner.
The Mayan society was a society very much like America today. There were the elite and the peasants. The elite had the peasants convinced that they controlled everything including the weather. So the peasants would do anything they were told. Since they didn't make enough money to ever earn their own elite status, they worked their entire lives for the wealthy. (Sound familiar)

It's rumored that after a four year drought, the peasants had enough and packed up and left for the south. That's where the Incas come into the picture. And left with no workers and no rain, the elite headed North. And that's where the Aztec come in.
(I may have that reversed.)
The Maya people were around from about 2000BC until about 250AD. They had their own written language as well as different dialects from area to area. The classes of people even had their own versions of the language, much like we have today in America.
They are in the spot light lately because of their calendar. Their calendar is much more accurate than the one that we use today. I won't go into detail here but the thing that is popular at the moment is the fact that the last entry in the calendar is December 21, 2012. On that day, it is determined that the planets will all line up. It is believed that the gravitational pull from this kind of alignment will be enough to shift the earth from it's axis.
Essentially, Kentucky could become the new North Pole. While this would cause an ice age for the new pole area, our existing North and South Poles could become tropical.
If we're all smart, we'll buy land at the South Pole now while it's cheap and be ready to move come next December. Now, if this did happen, it may or may not happen instantly. There's only one way to find out. So I guess we'll all just wait and see.
A view of the natural jungle surrounding the ruins. 

First Stop: Costa Maya, Mexico

A busy week of work has kept me from continuing the story of our epic adventure. But I've grabbed a few quiet moments to catch up some.

The all important Pool
 When we left off, we had boarded the Norwegian Spirit and headed off to the Gulf of Mexico, down the mighty Mississippi River. We spent the rest of that day and all of the next day at sea.
Deck 7 was always a nice quiet spot to disappear to and relax
 This left us free to roam around the ship and get acquainted  where everything was and meet a few of our shipmates.
The ship's main lobby area
Our first towel animal of the voyage

The pool deck (12) at 3am after the 1st party
 On the 3rd day, we awoke to this view from deck 7. Costa Maya, Mexico. We had booked a private beach party with the group and we were all looking forward to setting our feet on land for a bit.

 Here we are still at the port and loving every second of it. Yes, that's a swim up bar.
We boarded a beat-up old bus and headed out into the wild. I understand that they had a hurricane blow through here just a few days before. But the devastation that we witnessed had taken years to get to that point. The town itself was almost non-existent. Just a bunch of abandoned old cement block buildings. Empty streets with the exception of the occasional stray dog. In time, I'm sure that the almighty American dollar will rebuild this town. But for now, I wouldn't recommend coming here without a plan ahead of time.
The road leading to our beach was rough. Often, it was washed out from the hurricane and the bus actually was driving on the beach itself. When there was a road, it was one lane and lined with shacks with laundry hanging out to dry. We arrived at the beach "resort" and were pleasantly surprised. It was small but very well maintained. Massages were available to those that wanted them and lunch and drinks were included. It was rustic and many Americans would not have liked it. But I was fascinated by it all. I love to see other parts of the world. And not just the touristy spots. I like to see how people live. I'll write more about my thoughts on that in future post. 

Here we also met more of our fellow travelers that I will introduce at a later time as well.
For now, I'll leave you with thoughts of warm temperatures, palm trees, coconuts, fresh Mexican salsa and a cold pina colada.

This truly was the brighter side of the grave.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Why the rainbow?

In reviewing our trip with friends at home, I have been asked by a few people "Why the separation?", "Why the Rainbows?" And it's not an easy answer but I'll give it my best shot.

To start, it's a vacation. We are getting away from reality for a few days. In the real world, we have an older lady that has lived next door for eight years. She still thinks that we are brothers. In the real world, my husband can't even mention my name at his work because he would lose his job if anyone there knew that he is gay. In the real world, it is difficult to walk next to each other in a crowd because we can't hold hands and indicate to others that we are together. In contrast, in the separated world, it is assumed that we are with each other right away, simply because we are standing next to each other. In the separated world, people ask us "How long have you been together and where did you meet?" For one week a year, it's nice to be common.

In an earlier post, I mentioned a man that wanted to join our party and could not. I am an accepting person and I would be the first to say, "come on in!" However, the decision was not up to me. Our parties were prebooked and kept private for security reasons as well as cost. We actually paid more than other passengers so that we could attend these parties. There were straight people in our group, they just had to book with us before hand. Likewise, there were gay people on the ship that had no idea that the group would be on board and wanted to join, but could not.

The sense of belonging is something that is strong in everyone. We all want to feel like we are loved and that we belong somewhere. It hurts that in order to experience that now and then, you have to exclude someone else. In a perfect world, we would all accept each other and stop this separation. We are getting there. The fact that this cruise was possible is a huge step and I'd like to thank Norwegian Cruise Lines for that. In the past, there have been all gay cruises and to tell the truth, I don't think I'd like that at all. I enjoy meeting all types of people from all around the world. I accept them for who they are and where they are in thier life. Unfortunately, the same is not always true likewise. We still have to be careful and security guards were present at all of our events. It's a shame that we have to make laws to protect people from other peoples prejudice and force people not to pick on each other. But the fact remains that we do have to. And for one week a year, I felt safe walking next to the man that I love. To me, that was worth the extra price that we paid.

For the record, the private parties on board were the only  times that no one else was welcome. We were all free to mingle on the ship as well as on land with the locals. The other people on the ship, got what they paid for in all fairness. And I'm sure that they had a great time on their vacations, as did I.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Day 1 & 2 New Orleans

We left Michigan a little after sundown.
I love to drive at night.
 The miles disappear under the tires without any hassle.
We passed through Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee and half way through Alabama before the sun came up.
We stopped for breakfast at a local diner and were welcomed by three construction guys heading off to their job site. One had shaved his head clean and the other two were sporting the best, full fledged mullets. 
All business in the front and party in the back. They were rocking the plaid flannel with their company t-shirts underneath. My sister lives in Alabama and I love the people there. They are so laid-back and sweet. But when you haven't seen anyone but a couple of truck stop attendants all night, these guys were quite the welcome to that great state.
So we continued on down the road. We traveled for 19 hours straight, reaching New Orleans by 3pm. 

 We had a little daylight left and I'm used to staying up all day after working all night, so out on the town, we went. It was chilly and damp when we first got there but soon warmed up quite nice.
 I have to say that I am in love with the architecture of the French Quarter. These houses wouldn't be much to look at if it were not for all the decorative trim. And everywhere you look there is so much charm just dripping from every detail. They even still have working gas lanterns throughout the French Quarter.
After a long night of driving and a full day of exploring, we turned in somewhat early. We knew we were missing the Friday night before Halloween but wanted to be able to take in Saturday night so we called it a day.

The next day was filled with tours and more exploring. We were fascinated by the cemetery system  and mesmerized by the architecture. We've heard so many ghost stories in our line of work that we were not all that impressed. It was more interesting to hear of the murders that are believed to have lead up to the hauntings.
 Here we are at Marie Laveau's grave. There is a lot of mystery surrounding her life and her death. And with the story of there actually being 3 of them, there is debate if this is really her grave. I would assume that all 3 would be in one grave. But then again, if they didn't want anyone to know that she had died, they may not have kept those records. My guess is that this is the last one.

We were warned by many that you don't eat at a fast food restaurant while in New Orleans. So we sought out other options. This shrimp gumbo at Bubba Gump's Shrimp Co. was delicious.

And even though we were told not to eat at a fast food restaurant, we found everywhere we went that the food came faster than anywhere I've ever eaten.
 When the sun went down on Saturday night. The streets came alive. Anyone that's been to Provincetown, MA knows that there is no driving down the street once the pedestrians take over. And we're not just talking one street either. Of course Bourbon St. was the most crowded.

Being that it was Halloween weekend, most everyone was in some sort of costume. You would have thought it was Mardi Gras with all the beads being tossed from the verandas.
 Most people have heard the saying ""Let the good times roll" when it comes to New Orleans. And people no-doubt know LasVegas's tag line "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas".But as our tour guide earlier in the day told us....
 "What happens in New Orleans..........
 Never Happened!"

So I'll have to stop there.
 When we finally awoke Sunday morning, our ship had come in. Parked next to the famous bridge, downtown New Orleans in the Mississippi River just waiting for us.

Once we were all on board and checked in, we started our treck down the mighty Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico. Twisting and turning the whole way.
 We'd wave goodbye to the city, only to see it again on the other side of the ship.
Off we went into the night. We reached the gulf around midnight and the party had already started. The video from yesterday was the first night.